Has anyone else ever noticed how often the word alleged is used to describe rape victims? Just rape victims. You never hear about the alleged victim of a car jacking or the alleged robbery victim. You never see stories written about the alleged murder victim or the alleged assault victim. You only see the word alleged when it comes to rape victims and frankly I think the practice needs to stop.
The source of my rage was this article I read on Buzzfeed about a woman from Cincinnati, Ohio who is suing a police officer for false imprisonment. Although the author did seem to provide an objective view, alleged was used to describe the victim and the rape EIGHT times. EIGHT TIMES! This wasn’t the only article that did it. This article from the SFgate.com put alleged right in the title of the article. This article from Breakingbrown.com also has the word alleged in the title and peppered throughout the article in regards to the victim.
Sadly, this isn’t the only case where the word alleged is thrown around in regards to a rape victim. There’s this article about an alleged rape at a charter school. Even CNN did it when reporting an investigation into a rape after a collegiate swimmer committed suicide.
I’m sure there are dozens of other examples but you get the picture. It’s not a pretty one.
Before I go any further, I just want to say that I don’t think any of these authors meant any disrespect towards the victim. For most people, this phenomenon would go unnoticed. Some may have felt icky about the articles, but would be unsure why (aside from the obvious reasons). However, this is something that journalists, bloggers, reporters, and even the common man or woman should be aware of when discussing matters as delicate as this.
I’m sure some of you are wondering what the big deal is. It’s just a word. Alleged is just an adjective. However, the word holds more weight than you think.
Alleged: (Of an incident or person) said, without proof, to have taken place or to have a specified illegal or undesirable quality. To allege something means to claim or assert that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically without proof that this is the case.
To call someone an alleged rape victim is not only backwards, but it places guilt and doubt on the victim. Right off the bat it’s telling a rape victim “I don’t believe you and you are the one who did something wrong.” It places guilt on the wrong person. If anyone is alleged in a rape case, it’s the rapist.
Some of you may be going “Hey now, wait a minute!” right about now. Some of you may say that rape can be alleged because there may be no proof. That’s true. However, let’s think about the likelihood of someone filing a false report. Rape is one of the most under reported cases in the United States. Only 1 out of 10 rapes are reported. Out of the rapes filed, less than 2% are false.
Those who do file reports have an uphill battle ahead of them. They may have to deal with officers like the woman who is suing in Ohio. They will have to recount every horrific detail over and over. Out of every 100 rapes, only 40 are reported. Out of those 40, 10 lead to an arrest, 8 are prosecuted, 4 lead to a felony conviction, and only 3 rapists will even spend a day in prison. That leaves 97 rapists able to walk the streets as free citizens.
Reported or not rape victims have other struggles to face. There is the examination if they choose to get a rape kit. There’s dealing with unsupportive family and friends. There’s rape trauma syndrome. And let’s not forget about the psychological hell rape victims have to deal with for the rest of their lives.
But rape victims can’t get the benefit of a doubt. They can’t be believed immediately like victims of other crimes. For some reason it’s believed that women file false reports just for kicks. It’s a wonder why rape is so under reported. Why would anyone want to report a crime when right off the bat it seems like no one is going to believe them.
We need to choose our words more carefully. Rape victims should get the benefit of a doubt just like victims of other crimes. Maybe then more rapists would be prosecuted and jailed.