In the past few weeks, the Taylor Swift “groping case” has populated headlines. Aside from the Grammy Award winning singer’s trial, this week’s headlines also covered the Catholic Church “scandal.” When words such as “groping” and “scandal” are used in place of sexual assault and sexual abuse, we need to call it out. If we do not call it what it is, we only perpetuate this horrific crime. Naming sexual violence is the first step in shining a light on this enormous problem. Sexual abuse is not a scandal, it is an act of violence. Sexual assault is not about sex; it is about power and control.
Survivors already face enormous shame in coming forward and disclosing an assault. For some, it may take decades to share their stories. Calling their experience a “scandal” or minimizing an assault as “groping” only makes it more difficult to disclose. Sexual violence is one of the most underreported crimes. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network estimates that 2 out of every 3 sexual assaults are not reported. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 994 offenders will walk away from the assault free of responsibility (RAINN). Survivors already face enough barriers in seeking help after an assault. Calling this crime anything other than what it is minimizes its impact on the victim and it further perpetuates silence. The weight of shame belongs on the offender, not the victim.
Not naming sexual violence also spreads the wrong message. It actually diminishes the severity of the assault, and even normalizes it. The word “scandal” simply does not carry the weight of a survivor’s experience. Our words have power. Just as it is powerful for a survivor to name their own experience, it is equally disempowering to minimize a survivor’s experience by calling it anything other than what it is. Let’s not be afraid to use the correct language because our children are listening.