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Comparing Things That Aren't Rape to Rape Contributes to a Culture That Normalises Rape, and You Should Stop

06/01/2015 14:57 GMT | Updated 07/03/2015 10:59 GMT

Madonna joined the long list of people who have compared things that are not rape to rape towards the end of 2014, when she described the leak of what is alleged to be her thirteenth album as 'artistic rape'. Before her there was Charlize Theron, who described media intrusion into her life as making her 'feel raped', and Kanye West, Kristen Stewart, and Johnny Depp, who made similar analogies regarding being photographed. Judd Apatow, meanwhile, compared the leak of emails between Sony staff members to the leak of the naked photographs of Jennifer Lawrence. Then, of course, you have everyone who insists on referring to the hijacking of someone's Facebook account as 'frape', or teen boys using the word to mean beating their friends at video games.

The word 'rape' is used everywhere to mean things that aren't rape or anything like it, but it's near-impossible to get people to talk about rape when it happens. Reports towards the end of last year by the police watchdog HM Inspectorate of Constabulary suggested that police officers fail to record a quarter of sexual offences, and it is widely accepted that the amount of sexual assaults and rapes that occur is far higher than the rate of those reported, convicted, and the false allegation rate. Even when a conviction is acquired, as in the case of the footballer Ched Evans, both he and his supporters are adamant that he did not commit rape , despite accepting that he had sex with a drunk woman. Clearly, rape means everything except for what it is, sex without informed consent, and people would rather ignore its occurrence and prevalence than acknowledge it as the widespread, every day reality that it is.

All the while we allow children to joke about 'raping' someone without at least educating them simultaneously about what rape is, and all the while we allow it to appear in our vocabulary to mean something that it is not whilst failing to give survivors the time, respect, concern and support that they need, rape will never be taken seriously. If we don't treat rape as the serious act of violence that it is, we will never stop it being perpetrated. Of course, that doesn't mean that the things that are compared to rape aren't problems. Aside from 'frapes' and video game defeats, which clearly aren't, it's understandable that after working hard on an album, Madonna should feel violated that someone has stolen and released it before she did. She has also spoken openly about her experiences with actual rape and sexual assault, so she knows the severity. It is understandable that celebrities in the public eye should feel violated by constant media attention, constantly having cameras shoved into their faces and having photographs taken, sold and published without their permission. Likewise, the hacking into and sharing of the Sony emails was a violation of privacy.

It is the fact that these feel like and can be described as 'violations' that leads to the word 'rape' being used in their place, because a lot of people rightly identify that rape is the worst violation of all. However, it is this fact that also makes it incomparable to anything else. Fact is, even where the media's constant thirst to criticise, shame and 'expose' female celebrities leads to it following them around and taking constant, non-consensual photographs, it is misogynistic, it violates their bodily autonomy and it violates their privacy - but it is not rape. It is appropriate for celebrities, and especially female celebrities to open up discussions about the treatment that they face at the hands of the paparazzi and the media in general, but it is not appropriate to compare it to the very specific act of physical and psychological violence that rape is. Certainly not whilst victim-blaming is so prevalent, and whilst it is so hard to get a conviction.

On the flip side, the leak of naked photographs of Lawrence and other predominantly female celebrities can be considered an act of sexual assault, because the photographs were targeted because they featured their bodies in an intimate way that they would not otherwise be seen, and were shared with the intention of causing psychological harm of a sexual nature. It is vital that we open up our discourse on sexual assault to encompass non-physical means of abuse, and it is vital that we stop viewing naked photographs taken by women in a private, consensual environment as fair game to share non-consensually.

However, it wouldn't be appropriate to describe what occurred there as rape, either. It is this nuance on the subject that is missing currently, and until we make a conscious effort to address it, rape will continue to be just another word meaning a thousand things except for what it is: a severe, traumatic attack that shows no signs of stopping.