Why We Shouldn’t Throw Around The Word Rape To Describe Anything

Posted on March 11, 2015 in Gender-Based Violence, Society, Taboos

By Lipi Mehta:

“Saw a car on the side of the road today. You should have seen it; it was raped”, a friend remarked.

No it wasn’t; there had been an accident.


However, even if we assume for a second that it had indeed been ‘raped’, let us investigate further by asking (as our society often does): What was it doing outside on the road at 7 in the evening? Was it indulging in late night frivolity or was it parked provocatively?

What are we doing here? We are undermining the seriousness of both – the incidents of rape and those of road accidents.

When it comes to rape, why is it that we are unable to use our language wisely? I asked a few people about this and one of the answers that jumped up at me was, “Because I don’t know anyone who has faced sexual violence”. The truth is, sexual violence is no longer a problem that is yours or mine alone. Millions have faced it through no fault of theirs. It is not specific to any parameters of age, gender, region, or time. Most importantly, it is not a term that is to be thrown around carelessly when discussing a difficult exam paper (“the Math paper raped me”), the weather (“the sun is going to rape us all today.”) or a bad remix of an old tune (“the dubstep has totally raped the chorus”).

In a disturbing revelation, the word ‘rape’ has also been adapted to specific situations, such as when your Facebook account gets hacked by a friend (“I got fraped at work again, man”). Having a silly status update on Facebook does not mean that you have been ‘fraped’. Simply put, a violation of your social media account with statuses like, ‘I am King Kong’ and ‘I am the real Slim Shady and I will stand up’ does not give you a license to misuse the term. Surely, this experience of yours is not tantamount to that of someone who has undergone sexual assault.

When we use the term ‘rape’ so callously, we are undermining the seriousness of the issue. In India, a woman gets raped every 20 minutes. Yet, convictions don’t take place in the same time frame. We cannot afford to become a society that is ‘used to’ knowing or hearing about incidents of rape. When we institutionalize rape, we treat it as a common phenomenon. We skim over it in the newspaper, and use it flippantly in our language.

Recently, I read a New York Times article that describes the police response to an incident of rape as ‘broad and high-level’, ‘as if an act of terrorism had taken place’. First of all, comparing terrorism with sexual assault is not justified. Why is it surprising if the police reacts swiftly and effectively to deliver justice? Why can we not look at the bigger picture and work towards a system where a similar response is attributed to every act of violence? Moreover, even by stating that a car was ‘raped’ in an accident, we are not merely drawing a comparison; rather, we are undermining the seriousness of sexual assault and misrepresenting the road accident.

Recognizing ‘rape’ as a socially-acceptable cultural expression is not the solution to distancing ourselves from the magnitude of the violence dispensed through the act. The truth is, incidents of rape occur in Bharat and in India and in Hindustan and in the rest of the world. They occur because someone chooses to assault another person — more as an act of power, than of lust. Even then, the ‘blame’ is often tipped the other way. For instance, when the BBC journalist Radha Bedi visited India to study the nature and aspects of sexual assault in the country, she was told by the lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma that he had “never heard of a respectable girl getting raped”. (Watch – India: A Dangerous Place to be a Woman)

You see, even when the verb ‘rape’ is used in the right context, it is often done so with a cold, stinging callousness that comes only with a mindset that desperately requires change, a set of rigid, delusional notions (“it will never happen to me or someone I know and love”) or the purposeful dismissal of reality. Only when we acknowledge that it is our problem to tackle as much as anyone else’s, can we stop normalizing it and avoiding it.

We could perhaps begin by using language wisely.

Note: This article was originally published here