Pet Peeve: Sexualization in the Media of Victims of Assault

As we all know, the Super Bowl is upon us. And with every Super Bowl comes the obligatory rehashing of the major players’ histories of criminal charges, or, in some cases, still-pending criminal charges. Good old-fashioned American fun!

Anyway, of course the most prominent rapist player-with-a-past to look out for this year is Ben Roethlisberger, who has a series of sexual assault charges against him, some of which have been dropped.

In my brief research about this charmer, one of the first things I came across was this gem of a sentence from writer Russell Goldman at ABC News:

“‘Big Ben’ Roethlisberger dodged prosecution earlier this week when a Georgia district attorney announced that he could not prove that the quarterback had raped a 20-year-old sorority girl in a nightclub bathroom.”

This. Makes. My. Blood. Boil. I’ve already read it like five times and it still makes my blood boil each and every time, and here’s why: what purpose does it serve to call the woman, first and foremost, a “sorority girl,” other than to sexualize her and portray her in a negative light?

The writer could have said, “a young woman who belongs to a sorority,” and that would have been better, although when you put it that way it becomes a lot more apparent that the fact that she’s in a sorority has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not she was raped.

But it does have a lot to do with the way people perceive her, her case against Roethlisberger, and Roethlisberger himself. Because I suppose there are a few other common connotations with “sorority girl,” right? We might think of her as a pretty blonde thing, so how could “Big Ben” — I mean, he has a nickname! Everybody loves a guy with a nickname! — Roethlisgberger have been expected to keep himself from fucking her? And she was probably drunk, if she’s a sorority girl, so she was probably throwing herself at the big, impressive football player. Oh, and since she was drunk — because that’s what sorority girls do — we really can’t trust her to know whether or not she was raped, can we?

Or maybe this is the best case scenario: everyday news turns a bit more into porn, as the entire country is invited to imagine what it’s like to have sex with a “sorority girl” in a bathroom at a bar. In other words, the woman gets violated just a little bit more.

It might not piss me off so much (although I imagine it would) if this kind of sexualization of victims of assault didn’t happen all the time. How many times have we read about “a prostitute” or “a stripper” who was assaulted? Or had the pleasure of reading articles that take just a little too much poetic license in describing what happened to a woman during a rape, or what she looked like, or how old — or young — she was.

For reporters, it’s a simple question of semantics, and perhaps a tougher question of self-reflection. What are you trying to say in your article? Who are you trying to blame? What kind of a picture are you trying to paint? With rape and sexual assault, it seems like the picture being painted is way too often about the “sex” part of it. And if you’re cheap enough to try to get more people to read your article by making a story about rape sexy, in my opinion, your press credentials should be stripped as fast as Roethlisberger should be kicked out of the NFL.

Share This Post:
    • Linda

      Thank you.

    • Mo Coop

      Yes, truly, thank you for writing something that so eloquently brings attention to an incredibly overlooked issue.

    • MNiM

      Thank you! That absolutely needed to be said, and you did so incredibly well.

    • Jen

      This is wonderful.

    • marissa

      so true. and she’s not the only one being over-sexualized. people act as though the massage therapists that worked on brett favre and the sidelines reporter who complained about him should have expected that behavior as part of the nature of their work. it’s so disgusting that favre is seen as a good old boy…alright, there’s my daily rant.

    • teenie

      hear hear!

    • Ellen W.

      You are absolutly right. I also take issue with the use of the term “dodged.” He didn’t playfully avoid the grabby hands of a laughing prosecutor. The District Attorney’s office, which made it pretty clear they think he’s guilty, can’t prosecute because the young woman doesn’t want to keep going through all this crap. What crap? Maybe being treated in such a way that even if Rothlisberger were found guilty in a court of law she would still be considered a slut in the public eye.

    • Emily

      I could not agree more! I have been a Pittsburgher my entire life but I am completely disgusted with “Big Ben” and my city’s ability to turn a blind eye to his inexcusable behavior. How sad that winning games is more important than ethics. Coincidentally, the topic of his rape charges was a topic at lunch today among a few of my male coworkers and myself. One of them had the lack of sense to say that the girl was wearing “slutty” clothing so “she deserved it” and “knew what she was getting into.” I almost flipped the lunch table over in anger!

    • Beverly

      sooo I linked this to my FB profile, and this is the response I got :

      —Jeffrey Cormier can’t help but say this article is horribly biased
      “a series of sexual assault charges”
      vehemently false as he was only accused of criminal sexual misconduct once, and that was dropped
      the only other time there was an incident with big ben was a woman who refused to press criminal charges against him, but only wanted to go to civil court (to get money obviously) and all her friends and co-workers were going to testify AGAINST her because she not only lied about being forced, she told her friends/co-workers she was going to get big bucks to do it

      the “sorority girl” comment was not to sexualize her, as anyone who has gone to a university with prominent sororities knows, most sororities are incredibly non-sexual. The point of mentioning that part of the article was to emphasize that ben should not have been there, as he had no place being at a sorority/frat party, being a multi million dollar athlete nearing his thirties partying with a bunch of 18-21 year olds and the “girl” part of the article only emphasizes this fact. If the person who wrote the article has a problem with using the word “girl” as she alludes to, then her frustration is completely misplaced. She should write an article about how most PEOPLE in this society (yes, males and females) use the term “boy” and “girl” generically rather than condescendingly.

      so…just saying..be weary of bias.—-

      Just thought it’d be interesting to bring to the discussion! xx

    • Eileen

      I agree that she shouldn’t be sexualized because equating rape with sex is bullshit. HOWEVER I don’t think it’s fair to penalize Roethlisberger without a conviction. As much as we may personally believe (or not) that he’s guilty, a charge is not a conviction.

    • Briana

      Last time I remembered we live in America, where you are innocent till proven guilty. You can say that they are making the girl out to look bad but are you not doing the same to Ben? Because he is a extremely successful football player you will jump to the conclusion that he thinks he can do what he wants and go and do such actions. To say he should be stripped of all titles is ridiculous. He has never been found guilty of any crime. And yes the girl was a sorority sister, get over it. And to say that society thinks less of claims of prostitutes getting raped is true. Anyone who sells them self for sex will be looked upon differently. Its like a thief claiming someone stole from him, of course no one will think highly of his claim. The real issue here is that women think that ever time a women claims she is raped she isn’t lying, even when there is no proof. Most women who claimed to be raped by these athletes will take their money because that is what they want. Personally if i was raped no money in the world could stop me from pressing charges. But that’s what most of these women are after. Im not saying women dont get raped because they do but in most high profile cases there are other motives of the victims. So say what you want about Big Ben because he will be playing next Sunday like the champion he is.

      • Alytron

        I know this is a really old story but I stumbled upon it, and Briana your comments are disgusting! Prostitutes are human beings, and your disgusting comments are one of the main arguments for legalizing prostitution. NO ONE, no matter who they are, where they are, what they are wearing, look like, or do for a living, should ever be raped. It’s never OK. The logic behind your statement is the same as saying that you should expect to get raped (or not be taken seriously) when you go on multiple dates with your rapist because well hey the point of dating is to gain a sexual partner, right? What did you expect?

        And, as someone who has never BEEN raped, your comments about what you would do or not do re: pressing charges are offensive and ignorant. Women who have been raped are treated like shit more often than not. By police, by the public and media, and it’s a horribly traumatizing and scarring experience. Many women can’t face it, don’t want to face it, and end up dropping charges or never even trying in the first place because of the way the whole system manages to further de-humanize them. And this myth that women cry rape for personal gain that you are perpetuating does nothing but reinforce a point of view that further victimizes women who have already been brutally abued. For shame. FOR SHAME.

    • zharth

      Yes, the media is sensationalistic. But it doesn’t make a difference how much assault victims are sexualized – that doesn’t change the fact that a girl doesn’t deserve to be raped, no matter how sexy she might (or might not) be. The only way that media sexualization is even relevant is for people who don’t understand that point – and those people need to get with the program. Don’t blame the media for making rape victims sound attractive. Blame the people who think those girls deserved to be raped because they were attractive.