Sex isn’t against the law. Rape is

In documents that were made public yesterday, we learned that in a sworn deposition, Bill Cosby admitted he planned to give prescription Quaaludes to women he wanted to have “sex” with.

Rape sounds so harsh, doesn’t it? Even the term sexual assault can seem a bit severe. As a result, several media outlets regularly sanitize sexual violence with “sex” or “intercourse” – and perhaps do so without much thought.

Let’s start thinking about it.

This sanitation is part of the problem. When we say “sex” instead of “rape” or “sexual assault,” we are using a word that describes a mutually consensual act to describe a crime. We are removing the possibility of an offender perpetrating a violent act against a victim.

And it makes it seem like it’s not such a big deal.

Over and over again, we read headlines like “Man pleads guilty to intercourse with area woman.”

Intercourse isn’t against the law. Sexual assault is.

Reading “Cosby planned to use drugs to have sex with women” instead of “Cosby planned to use drugs to sexually assault women” prevents readers from fully understanding that we are in fact talking about a violent crime.

When we use euphemisms to talk about horrific crimes that are perpetrated against people, we are diminishing the crime, devaluing the experience of survivors, and removing the distinction between a consensual act and a crime.

When we say “Cosby planned to use drugs to have sex with women,” we are effectively saying he planned to use drugs to do absolutely nothing wrong.

A lot of people ask me what they can do to help prevent sexual violence. I almost always answer that people must be more aware of their language and that we all need to change how we talk about sexual violence in our culture.

So let’s call this what it is: Bill Cosby planned to use drugs to sexually assault women. It sounds harsh because it is.

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