it’s a crime, not a scandal: a re-blog

Now, why didn’t I write this?   It’s been a bug-bear of my mine every time I read the headline of “sex scandal.”   It’s not a sex scandal, it’s a sex CRIME.   Here’s a re-blog worthy of a read:


Stop Calling it a Sex Scandal

Dear media: Learn the difference between abuse and sex — otherwise, you’re sensationalizing violence and rape
July 1, 2012  |
 This story originally appeared at Salon.

Let me fix this for you, headline writers. When you’re dealing with a story that involves rape or harassment or abuse or molestation or child porn or anything that falls under the rubric of criminal behavior, you should call those things rape and harassment and abuse and molestation and child pornography. You know what you shouldn’t call them? Sexy sexy sex scandals, that’s what.

For example, when you’re covering a story involving charges of “rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault” at the Lackland Air Force Base, you might want to reconsider framing it, as the Washington Post does, as a “widening sex scandal,” or as the Boston Herald calls it, a “growing sex scandal,” or even, as the Christian Science Monitor says, a garden-variety “sex scandal.” If you happen to say, as the AP does, that the “Air Force says 31 victims so far in sex scandal,” or as already credibility-strained CNN declares, that there are now “31 victims identified in widening Air Force sex scandal,” please note that word “victims” there. It’s the important one.

Similarly, if you’re ABC and you want to talk about priests who’ve abused children, don’t couch it as a “guide to Catholic sex scandals.” If you’re the L.A. Times or the Hollywood Reporter, don’t say that Jerry Sandusky made for a “Penn State sex scandal.” If you’re the Village Voice, don’t say that  the molestation that allegedly went on for years at a New York private school is a “Horace Mann Sex Scandal.” Just don’t.

A sex scandal is Mark Sanford ditching his state to cavort with his mistress. A sex scandal is Tiger Woods and a waitress. The San Antonio Air Force base story is certainly a complex one, involving charges that range from assault and rape to obstructing justice, all the way down to “having a personal social relationship.” But when the media uses the word “sex” within a story about something where there are alleged victims of assault, it’s a semantic failure on an epic scale. It diminishes crime. It sensationalizes it. It removes the distinction between a normal, consensual act and violence. Sure, you could say that sex is an element of those stories. But you’d be missing the part about force and pathology. It’s like calling armed robbery a “shopping scandal.” It’s lazy and it’s dumb and it’s hurtful to victims. Rape and abuse are not sexy. So stop making it sound like they are.

2 thoughts on “it’s a crime, not a scandal: a re-blog

  1. A few weeks ago, a local paper ran a headline that read similar to “Man arrested again for his love of dogs”. The reality is that this man was STILL on probation for animal abuse, not attending the court ordered therapy, not doing his community service, not reporting to his probation officer. His rationale at the trial was that he “loved” the dogs that he so piteously tortured by engaging in sexual activity with them, both male and female. It took hours of comments online, as well as phone calls to the paper, to get at least the online edition amended. Media choice of words have less to do with truth and more with sensationalism. Thank you, Morven, for bringing us this well-written blog.

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