Scandals, Misconduct, and Misbehaviors: The Language of Minimizing Sexual Violence

In a BuzzFeed article this past Sunday, actor Anthony Rapp went public about sexual advances a then 26 year old Kevin Spacey made towards Rapp when he was 14 years old. Rapp, now 46, said he was emboldened by the recent Harvey Weinstein allegations and the legions of survivors who have stepped forward.

“He was trying to seduce me,” Rapp said. “I don’t know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.”

Yet as news reports have come out discussing Rapp’s statements, many articles have been referring to the incident as a “sexual misconduct allegation”. However to refer to what happened that night as “sexual misconduct” downplays how it should truthfully be described, an attempted sexual assault of a minor.
And this downplaying of sexual abuse and assault isn’t limited to Spacey. Recently, it was revealed by Page Six that Woody Allen’s upcoming film features ”A Sexual Relationship Between an Adult and a 15-Year-Old Girl“.
While the film’s plot has yet to be fully released, news outlets several outlets referred to the plot as merely a “sexual relationship” rather than what a sex between a minor and adult is actually called, statutory rape. By calling these types of interactions “sexual relationships”, it implies that an underage minor can engage in consenting sexual acts with an adult.
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Woody Allen has been accused of sexually abusing his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow and married his other adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, and has also previously starred in one of his own films, “Manhattan” as a 42 year old man dating a 17 year old girl. Yet, despite these allegations and problematic films, Allen has enjoyed an illustrious career, allowing Allen to continue normalizing relationships between adults and underage girls.

Even with the now reviled Harvey Weinstein, his detailed decades-long history of sexual assault has been described in recent headlines as solely a “sex scandal”. Currently, 93 women have come out saying they were sexually assaulted by Weinstein, 14 accusing him of rape, and yet, by considering it simply a “scandal”, media outlets make light of these women’s traumatic experiences.Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 6.26.32 PM

By labeling these instances of sexual violence as simply “misconduct” or “scandals”, we trivialize these actions, treating them like minor mistakes or accidents. Avoiding these terms allows news outlets to avoid the severity associated with them.

But to the survivor, using these euphemisms sends a message that people are not willing to believe their experiences, because we refuse to address these incidents with the gravity they deserve.John Leguizamo Tweet

I acknowledge it can be difficult to label something statutory rape or sexual assault, especially when we’re not totally sure if it happened. But ignoring an issue doesn’t make it goes away, it just ensures we don’t address it.
So call these acts by their names. Harvey Weinstein has been accused of rape and sexual assault. Woody Allen’s new film may include scenes of statutory rape. Kevin Spacey has been accused of attempted sexual assault. The first step to preventing sexual violence is acknowledge it exists, without belittling or minimizing the serious claims that survivors make.

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