On Tuesday September 11, 2012, while many Americans were occupied with honoring those who were killed in the terrorist attacks which occurred 11 years ago, a young woman in Philadelphia endured the horrific pain of being brutally raped. As I am sure this story did not garner multi-national attention, ignoring instances of rape is what causes many of us to also ignore or fail to critically examine the language used to describe such an egregious crime, but the language used to describe the victim’s pain is exactly what captured my attention.
While reading about the rape on a media outlet, I was dismayed by the language used by Philadelphia’s Police Department- Special Victims Unit Captain John Darby. During the press conference Captain Darby stated of the rape that it was “violent, unprovoked”-violent yes; as most rapes are, but to state that it was unprovoked alludes to the idea that there exists a form of rape which is provoked. With recent comments by Congressman Todd Akin insinuating that there are “legitimate rapes in which the woman’s body prevents her from becoming pregnant,” you would think that a public figure such as Captain Darby would be more cognizant of his language; especially given his position within the Special Victims Unit, but this is an event that has become all too common with lawyers, law enforcement officials, politicians, and collectively within society.
When we as sexual violence advocates are tirelessly working to eradicate the rape culture and language within our society, it becomes especially difficult to accomplish this goal when public figures continue to diminish the severity of the crime by using the very language we are attempting to destroy. As a society, it is our responsibility to hold our public figures and ourselves accountable for the language we use when describing not just sexual violence, but all violence. It is pertinent to the further development of our culture’s language and the safety of our citizens that we no longer ignore comments which allude to the idea that a rape can be legitimate or provoked; or jokes which suggest that rape is somehow a comical subject matter- no one, ever, asks to be raped!
Until we collectively and as individuals hold entertainers, our friends, the legal system, and public officials accountable the crime of rape will continue to be referred to as a legitimate and provoked situation. I have taken the initiative to write Captain John Darby to make him aware of his unacceptable language and it is my hope that he publicly apologies to the victim for delegitimizing her victimization. What action will you take and how will you begin to critically examine the language which aids the perpetuation of violence within society? (The letter to Captain Darby can be read below)
Recently while reading of the egregious rape which took place in the City of Philadelphia on Tuesday, and viewing a short video of your press conference, I was shocked and dismayed by your use of the words “violent, unprovoked” to describe the nature of the rape. While it is true that rape which occurs in any context is violent, I would also like to point out that they are always unprovoked; no one is asked to be raped. I know that you are a very busy person, and it is with every fiber in my body that I can assure you I would like to find the culprit as much as you, but I also, as a domestic and sexual violence advocate hold a responsibility to those men and women who have been victims of rape, but have been denied the sufficient legal protection and social understanding of their trauma. With the use of a word like “unprovoked” in conjunction with a crime of rape, it eludes to the idea that there may be rapes which are provoked. Many advocates across the global spectrum-me included, tirelessly work to ensure that rape culture and language are eradicated within our society, but that task becomes increasingly difficult when influential and public figures such as yourself inadvertently use the very language we attempt to diminish. It is with the utmost respect and concern, for the sake of victims and survivors, and for those who fight the battle to prevent rape and other violent crimes that I ask of you, that more care is taken with regard to language when addressing any violent crime; especially rape.