Rape and Sex Are Not the Same Thing

On May 3, the New York Times ran a short briefing titled "Four Morehouse College Students Face Sex Charges," then detailed the names of the four male athletes who raped two females at a neighboring college. While the title was quickly changed to "sexual assault charges," the web address remains the same, using the "sex charges" indictment. While this poor word choice didn't catch the eye of any major news outlet, there was coverage on Twitter via Jaclyn Friedman, founder and executive director of Women, Action & the Media, who succinctly noted the true issue: "Rape is not sex, and confusing the two is dangerous." 

While the article itself correctly stated that this was an issue of a rape charge, the original headline ignored the true crime and watered down the charge. By using the term "sex" in the original headline, a correlation was made between rape and sex. Echoing Friedman, it is this confusion that is especially harmful. 

As elementary as it may seem, sex is compromised of sexual activity between two individuals, bringing them together. Without delving into specifics, sex is an act of mutual consent, mutual enjoyment, and to coin a term, togetherness. On the other hand, the usage of the term rape signifies quite the opposite. Rape is an assault and violation. It is about power and about using the most intimate connection two individuals can experience and abusing it as a tool of degradation. Rape is forced and non-consenting. It forces the will of the assailant over the victim. 

The only true overlap between sex and rape is that both involve sexual activity, but is not of the same purpose or intent. As Friedman asserts, it is dangerous to equate the two. Sex is about mutual desire, trust, and a healthy expression of love and care. Rape is about the will of one individual over another; it is ultimately about an expression of power, using formerly intimate actions to degrade and shame. 

Words are powerful, and when crimes, such as rape, are incorrectly named, it is a second violation. It is an "un-naming" of the crime, taking away from the testimony of the survivors, as the word choice affects the way the public perceives their story. It is important to properly name a crime as rape (or as amended in this case, sexual assault), and not as a "sex charge," which only causes confusion and a dangerous correlation between rape and sex.