20 May 2007

Because I love and miss Kelowna, I try to do a respectable job of keeping informed regarding what's happening in my hometown and, to be frank, best place in the world. Today, while reading the daily Kelowna news at Castanet, I came across the disturbing story of a sexual assault on Abbott Street--a place not far from where I once lived. While the story itself is yet another example of male violence against women, my nose was further pushed out of joint (which is never fun when you've already had it broken once in your life) by the manner in which Castanet reported the story:

"A 28-year-old man is in police custody after a woman was sexually assaulted on Abbott Street early Sunday morning."

I'm not a fan of the passive voice being used to describe sexual assault. It makes it sound like rape is an invisible crime: *poof* a woman is sexually assaulted. Wrong. Men sexually assault women. Women aren't just sexually assaulted out of thin air. A more appropriate phrasing of the story would be thus:

"A 28-year old man is in police custody after allegedly* sexually assaulting a woman on Abbott Street early Sunday morning."

See the difference there? It's perfectly clear why the man is in custody, and shifts the onus on to him. To many this may seem like a quibble. The reality is far from the level of a quibble. By using the passive voice--the woman "was sexually assaulted"--it implies a disconnect. It is phrasing that is in the same line of thinking as giving advice left, right, and centre to women as to all the things they should do to avoid being sexually assaulted, while giving a free pass to the people that we should really be focusing our attention towards, namely, the men who rape. This will cause long-time readers to harken back to a post I wrote waaaayy back last October that gives men advice on how to not rape women, the type of "free advice" that we should be giving out on a regular basis, given the increasing number of reported rapes (which is still a pithy fraction of the actual number of sexual assaults).

So with that in mind, I would like to suggest to my readers that when they see stories of sexual assault reported in misleading fashion like the Castanet story above, send them a letter and urge them to report the story that squarely places the focus on the male act of sexual assault rather than the consequence of a female being sexually assaulted. Additionally, send me a link and I'll send one in too.

*I'm not a fan of using the word "allegedly," but I understand that news outlets have to use it in order to protect themselves from a libel suit if it turns out that the alleged assailant is found innocent (that's another can of worms, too!). That said, rape is the only crime in which people actually question whether anything really happened. Nobody ever asks if a murder victim is dead, but people sure do like to question whether a woman was violated against her will.

1 comment:

anna lou said...

So true. It all starts with how we think about and say things.