The Unacceptable Normalization of Sexual Violence and its Counterparts
17 Apr. 2019 “In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime” (Get Statistics). Sexual violence is a prevalent part of living in our world today, however disappointing that may be. Its commonness has given way for it to become a regular inclusion in modern media, though often times this inclusion is found in a skewed report. This problem is caused primarily through the allowance of uninformed societal views to enter the media’s presentation of sexual violence. The topic of sexual violence, though becoming more common in everyday communication, is often shown with a societal distortion when reported on. This distortion is placed on the account, taking focus away from the victim and realistic magnitude of the situation, supporting a withstanding, detrimental societal stance (Malamuth). The current representation of sexual violence in the media and society is often an erroneous portrayal of the true consequence of these acts. To amend this misrepresentation, the concept of language correction must be normalized.
There are major consequences to leaving this problem as is. One consequence is the maintenance of society’s general view on the topic of sexual violence. Without a change in this system, the stigma around being sexually assaulted will remain a negative concept to many, while the stigma of committing sexual assault will continue to be excused by many. In an article within Lunsford’s textbook, the author discusses an account of sexual violence including rape, as well as the media’s coverage of said account. This article focuses on the sexual harassment and gang rape of an eleven-year-old girl by 18 men, in Texas. The New York Times article that initially reported on the event was titled “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town”. Immediately, the event has been turned over from the horrors of what happened to the young girl, to an event that affects many, a whole town even. “It was an eleven-year-old girl whose body was ripped apart, not a town… not the lives of the men who raped her…” the textbook article stated (Lunsford).
Though 81% of female rape and sexual assault victims report long-term consequences like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the viewers and media felt the need to discuss the effects to the attackers lives in larger quantity and more detail than that of the physically and mentally scarred victim (Get Statistics, Peterson). It is events like these that show a clear view of what is considered “rape culture”. This can be defined as sets of cultural belief that support violence against women, consider sexual violence a part of life, and the idea that men have rights to sex. These beliefs make way for society to feed the media with inappropriate judgment, and allow the media to then release corresponding details like that previously discussed. Without responding to the treatment of these events in a negative manner, this inconsiderate and unacceptable viewpoint will continue to close the curtains on legitimate reasoning for this behavior (Phipps).
What is necessary for any amount of improvement, is the normalization of language correction in the media. In order to begin changing this issue the media needs to be held accountable for properly reporting accounts of sexual violence. In a world where media caters to societal principles, however, the method with which they report can only be changed through a shift in societies principles. Common belief and speech regarding sexual harassments stems from “a general social climate promoting sexist ideologies,” therefor it is necessary to adjust the most prevalent ideologies, i.e. overshadowing of victims, justifications to attackers, and minimizing the grotesque nature of this violence, with a more inclusive and truthful social climate (Malamuth). In short, to shift current principles within society, we must be more aware of the value of the words that are used, and when to use them. Change has to start somewhere, and for it to reach as large scale as societal principles and media coverage, it must start small. By normalizing not only language correction in media, but also in personal and societal instances, the misrepresentation of sexual violence in media can be reduced, and eventually eradicated.
The first step of language correction normalization in personal and societal instances involves informing people of their role in the issue. It is important for many to understand that the media reports based on our societal behaviors, therefor our belief, actions, and language shape the media. Starting in the school system, it should be taught that sexual violence is not merely a fact of life and is something to be stood against. The next step in this normalization is opening channels of communication. Creating open channels of communication within society, allows many to respectively discuss the topic of sexual violence while learning to adapt their language toward the topic (Lunsford). When people are able to ask questions and open their mind about the true nature of these events, they are able to more easily understand why and how communication on the subject needs to be adjusted; an important factor in getting people to share their view with others. The final step of language correction normalization in personal and societal instances is understanding society’s shared responsibility. There are several organizations that support victims of sexual assault, and the true cost of being a victim of that type of violence; but it is on everyone’s shoulders to spread positive support to the correct recipients (Peterson). Unless held accountable by an improving society, the media will continue to portray sexual violence how we react to it: indifferent, in despite of its terrible nature.
The first step of language correction normalization in the media is informing people of the issue at hand. The distortion of the sexual violence in modern media is taking away from the real events and victims, giving in to the want to please viewers. The next step in this normalization is teaching people to respond to erroneous media. Once able to spot misinterpretation and incorrect language regarding sexual violence accounts in the media, people must learn to speak out and correct the language being used. It is important for many not to feel judged in speaking out in order for them to react; this is the reasoning that makes normalizing the correction so imperative. When it becomes a normal act to speak out on a poorly focused report, more will follow, and the media follow soon after (Lunsford). The final step of language correction normalization in the media, is the creation and maintaining of societal feedback on misrepresented sexual violence accounts. After informing the public and teaching them to respond, their motivation toward their actions must be continued and supported. For the media to grasp any societal shift, pushback from informed, organized groups must become a common occurrence.
Due to the current, often erroneous portrayal of sexual violence in the media, society must take the steps necessary to adjust the common viewpoint of this violence individually and socially before there will be change. Language correction plays an important role in this process for a societal shift, and its normalization is key to successfully altering the way these accounts are portrayed. Without correction, proper representation of said accounts is unattainable, leading to a continuation of the current unacceptable viewpoint covering legitimate reasoning and true consequences of events. The misrepresentation of sexual violence in the media can be reduced and eventually eradicated, through the normalization of language correction. In order to truly succeed, each and every person seeing the wrongness of this situation needs to be bold and stand. For the sake of every victim given a shortcoming by the media, we must feel compelled to use our words for the good of others, and stand against opposition.
- “Get Statistics.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2018, www.nsvrc.org/statistics.
- Lunsford, Andrea A., et al. Everything’s an Argument: with Readings. Bedford/St Martin’s, 2019. Article – “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence” found in CH 25
- Malamuth, Neil M, and James V.p Check. “The Effects of Mass Media Exposure on Acceptance of Violence against Women: A Field Experiment.” Journal of Research in Personality, vol. 15, no. 4, 1981, pp. 436–446., doi:10.1016/0092-6566(81)90040-4.
- Peterson, Cora, et al. “Lifetime Economic Burden of Rape Among U.S. Adults.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28153649.
- Phipps, Alison, et al. “Rape Culture, Lad Culture and Everyday Sexism: Researching, Conceptualizing and Politicizing New Mediations of Gender and Sexual Violence.” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 27, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1–8., doi:10.1080/09589236.2016.1266792.”