Erin Matson, a feminist activist and writer, was reading the Washington Post over breakfast last week when she came across this story in the paper about Jared Fogle, the “Subway Guy,” who is now facing charges of receiving and distributing child pornography and “having sex with underage girls.”
Angered by the language used for the headline and throughout the article, Erin quickly grabbed her pen and edited the piece. “The wording was so upsetting that I had to fix it. Language needs to change! Rape is not sex,” she told WYSK.
In an article Erin wrote for RH Reality Check, in which she dissects the way journalists often report about rape in mainstream media, she says, “‘Rape is rape:’ Activists say this because it remains a radical act to acknowledge sexual assault for what it is, rather than with language and assumptions that can blame, minimize, and sexualize victims while erasing blame for perpetrators. This language is often found in media reports about rape cases.”
In this instance, Erin is correcting “underage sex” with the term statutory rape, which is committed when an adult has sex with a person who, under the law, is incapable of consenting to sex. While the age of what is considered underage varies among states (under 12-18), the fact remains the same… this type of news coverage is all too common.
What happened next? Erin tweeted her edited version to the Washington Post, and Drew Harwell, one of the article’s writers retweeted and responded. A small victory, but an important one to acknowledge because “accurate wording in journalism matters.”
“Journalists aren’t the only people who talk about rape, and most people aren’t journalists. We all have a role to play in changing the conversation. It’s not so easy when the language we draw upon is rigged to support rape culture,” Erin says. “We need a new conversation on rape, immediately. We need to insist upon it. We need to make corrections the moment they are due. Otherwise, we are all part of the problem.”
You can check out more of Erin’s work here and here.