Police have charged a 25-year-old man with raping his girlfriend’s 10-year-old daughter. It hurts to read that, doesn’t it? Rape is a harsh, ugly word. But it’s the only word that should be used when an adult sexually assaults a child.
It wasn’t sex.
So why are headlines saying the man is accused of “having sex” with a 10-year-old? Because rape culture extends all the way to our children. Why are we being told that the little girl reportedly said she “made love” to her accused rapist three times? Because victims’ credibility starts becoming smeared even when the victim is a little child.
As a culture, we have to stop portraying the victims of child rape as older than they seem, or capable of consent, or in any way participating in the act adults know as consensual sexual intercourse. It may seem like a small thing, just three letters in a headline that won’t make national news. But every single one of these instances matter. This little girl matters. It matters when you talk about the things you read in the news.
We can’t be afraid to say rape. When we give it other names and gloss it over, it removes some of the horror. A little girl in Louisiana deserves justice. She deserves to be kept safe. She doesn’t deserve a single person thinking she was capable of consenting to sex. No victim does.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to speak up when you see these types of crimes portrayed as less horrific than they are is the fact that the legal system has failed victims. Judges have said that rape victims weren’t the victims they seemed, or perhaps more horrifically — appeared older than their chronological age. If victims don’t feel like they can trust our legal system, why are they going to trust any adult? Who will they trust to protect them?
Think critically about the way you see sex crimes, particularly those against children, portrayed in the media and in the conversations you see online. Very few people intentionally contribute to rape culture, but it takes intention to reverse the momentum of it. It takes every single one of us speaking up and speaking out.
There’s no such thing as “sex” with a child. It’s rape. It’s assault. It’s abuse. It’s awful. And victims deserve to be protected, not judged.
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