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Verbal Assault: The Abuse and Debasement of “Rape”

8 October 2009

By Amanda Hess, originally posted at The Sexist

Monday, Sept. 28, was a good day for the sexual assault euphemism.

Discussing the Roman Polanski case with the ladies of The View, Whoopi Goldberg mitigated accusations that Polanski drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl by insisting that the crime wasn’t “rape-rape.” In a statement to the United Nations that same day, Vatican rep Archbishop Silvano Tomasi spun the public outcry over sexual abuse in the Catholic Church by clarifying that the priests “involved in the abuses” are not pedophiles but “ebophiles,” a “sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17.”

Both Goldberg and Tomasi were criticized for employing wordplay that minimized sexual assault. “Look, sex with underage boys is an area where you don’t want to be displaying your connoisseurship and nitpicking about aesthetic distinctions,” the Economist chided Tomasi. The blog Jezebel called Goldberg’s repetition a product of the actor’s “fantastical moral universe.” In that universe, anything less terrifying than the most barbaric form of rape doesn’t deserve to live under the same terminological roof.

How did we get to a place where “rape” needed to be repeated to mean anything?

In ancient law, rape was seen as an affront to female chastity as opposed to a violation of the human body. Raping a married woman robbed her husband of his property; raping an unmarried virgin robbed the woman’s family of her future value in marriage. Rape inside marriage was impossible, as a man could not rob what was already his. Similarly, a woman’s premarital sexual activity in effect nullified the crime of rape—women who chose to have sex outside of marriage had already devalued themselves and had no chastity left to steal.

Continue reading at The Sexist

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