Language and its use is very powerful. Take for example Cross-Country Checkup on CBC yesterday. They were talking about the Toronto District School Board Report released last week. Rex had Julian Falconer on who headed the commission that produced the report. I must say that I was very impressed with how Mr. Falconer grasped the issues. He was discussing the rate of sexual assault of young women in schools and the abysmal rates of reporting. His conclusion that for a young woman to report brought down the whole weight of the legal system, her parents etc was not working. After consulting with women experts in this matter he came to the conclusion that the issue should be handled like abortion. A young woman can make her decision about terminating her pregnancy without the involvement of parents. This way, he reasoned, young women are more likely to report the crimes committed against them school authorities and then the schools can take action against the perpetrators. To the parents who would complain that they would want to know if their daughters had been raped he basically let them know that under the current system they don’t know and at least if young women are reporting more then perpetrators are being dealt with and the parents may find out at some point. I was very impressed with Mr. Falconer’s clear and concise thinking around these issues. But I digress.
Back to the language issue. I hate it when people use euphemisms. Rex seemed to have a hard time with the word rape so he called it ‘forced sexual activity.’ What a way to diminish what is actually happening. Last time I checked ‘forced sexual activity’ is rape. Why can’t we call it what it is? Even sexual assault puts a softer touch on rape. We need to demand that violence, like rape, be labeled appropriately. If we do not then we risk a minimization of a huge crime committed mostly against women. You can bet that if it were the young men being raped it would not be called ‘forced sexual activity.’
Another one that is really pissing me off these days is the term ‘gender-based violence.’ I am not sure why we are calling violence against women ‘gender-based violence’ now. Again, it is throwing ambiguity at an all to real and serious issue. When that term is used people have to stop and think about what it could mean. Most people only see two genders (that is a whole other post) and so they have to stop and think about this applies to men. Well it doesn’t really. The bottom line is that in ‘gender-based violence,’ for the most part, men commit violence against women. Julian Falconer did not discuss violence perpetrated by females in schools. I am sure there is some. But for the most part it is young men who commit these crimes against their peers.
What are the solutions? I am not really sure. I do know that we have to call it like we see it. We need to expose violence against women and we need to call ‘forced sexual assault’ rape. As a society we need to address male privilege and how we keep passing it on to young men. Men need to take responsibility for their actions and women need to hold them accountable.