A Reminder for the Media: Sex Scandal, Sexual Assault, and Sexual Harassment Are Not Interchangeable Terms

The recent accusations against Herman Cain gave us reason to remind the mainstream media of the differences between sexual harassment and sexual assault. Daniel Denvir writes:

Yesterday’s New York Times once again reports on “sexual harassment accusations” against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. But nonconsensual and forced groping is not harassment--it’s sexual assault. Plain and simple. We don’t know what happened between Cain and these women, but the content of the allegations is clear: they allege harassment and, more seriously, assault.

Another week, another media screw-up. This time, media outlets seem to be confused over what constitutes a sex scandal. Audrey Ference writes over at TheLMagazine.com:

So according to many actual news sources who should know better, there's a "sex scandal" going down at Penn State. Here's the Daily Beast:

Why Penn State Fans Love Fired Coach Joe Paterno Despite Sex Scandal

CBS News:

Penn State sex scandal is like "Being sucker punched," says former player Brandon Noble

Broadcasting and Cable, which I include because Mediabistro used it as the lead headline about the story in this morning's newfeed:

State College Stations Detail Penn State Sex Scandal

Here's the thing though: raping children is not a sex scandal! Have you read the Grand Jury testimony? Sandusky raped multiple children as young as ten. At-risk children he set up a foundation to help, that he instead used as a hunting ground for kids whose parents wouldn't get in the way of his abuse. He did this over years and years, and Joe Paterno knew he was doing it and covered it up. He sat by and allowed a guy who was good at football rape children so that his team could do win at making touchdowns. That is not a "sex scandal."

As Ference points out, there's one element a story needs to be rightfully called a sex scandal, and that is consent. Mark Sanford running off to Argentina to have sex with his mistress? That's a sex scandal. A football coach raping young boys who were supposed to be in his care?That is not a sex scandal; that is a string of sexual assaults. Get it together, people!

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at November 11, 2011, 7:39am

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