The language we use can say a lot, sometimes without us even recognizing it. Language euphemisms are the “disguised” stories we sometimes use to describe our actions. For example, unethical and potentially fraudulent bookeeping may be called “creative accounting practices.” We have “collateral damage” in military actions, not civilian deaths. Language euphemisms themselves may not be dangerous. In fact, they can help simplify some of the complexities of our world. But I sometimes worry about the attitudes underlying some of the euphemisms.
For example, what if we say it isn’t “rape,” it’s “entitlement?” Or, that forcing sex on a woman is just “entertainment?”
A study on the prevalence of rape published this month in The Lancet Global Health Journal surveyed more than 10,000 men between the ages of 18 and 49 from six Asian countries (Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka). The study found that when the word “rape” was not used in the survey, more men admitted to forcing sex on a woman who was not their partner. When they were asked why they forced themselves on women, 73% said it was because of “entitlement.” And 59% said they raped for “entertainment.”
Sadly, I don’t believe for a minute that using such euphemisms as a justification for rape is limited to men from the six countries studied. Until we can all name it for what it is, not only are the attitudes dangerous, but also the words.