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A Letter to the Media: The Word You Are Looking for is Rape. By Louisa Msiska

I was meant to conclude my Letters series so as to pave way to my contributions for #16DaysofActivism and my first blogmas. But I woke up today and saw a headline which made me stop in my tracks and want to address it in my own way.

Before I dwell into the story, let me get this clear. Mainstream media is where we go to learn the truth about stories. We want to be informed about what is going on in our societies and globally. However, it is obvious that their choice of words can sometimes be misleading.

Now, yesterday, there was a breaking story. I heard of the story on Twitter, but the wording from TImes 360 left a lot to be desired. Here is a screenshot of how they presented it:

The words “their father has been sleeping with them,” are words that made me angry. In a bitter way, you can taste the romanticizing of the words as you say them. Let me break it down.

Romanticizing the word Rape

I have worked in the media industry before, and I understand how some of these cases are meant to be reported. One of the rules of reporting is to make sure that it does not cause ‘discomfort’ or ‘unrest’ to the readers. But, there are times when you have to know that reporting the reality of events is far better than speaking them in a loving language.

A step-father does not sleep with his children like they are in love and are making love. An old man does not sleep with a 9-year-old girl. He does not start to sleep with his child at the age of 16.


Issues of romanticizing the word rape to make it seem like it is okay has been an issue with the mainstream media. Each time a new case comes up, they will say defiled, slept with etc. Anything but RAPE. It makes one wonder if those reporting are so scared to call a spade and just call it by its legal name.

As we stand for 16 days of activism against gender based violence, let us also fight for things to be presented in black and white.

Saying “a man raped his step-children” should not cause discomfort. After all, it is the reality of the shitty world we live in. However, saying “a man has been sleeping with his step daughters” downplays the offence he has done.

Look at this from this angle, the words used suddenly do not seem so much as abuse. All over a sudden, you start thinking it was an affair happening between a step father and his daughters. You suddenly forget that two innocent children were violated and they become just part of the statistics.

This irresponsibility is one that has been on a rise recently, due to the rise in rape cases. However, it is time we demand that the media stop romanticizing these criminals and the acts that they have done. It is time they start using the actual word of the act, and that is RAPE.

So, to anyone that works in a media house and you stumble on this. Be it a journalist, graphic designer or editor, the word you are looking for is RAPE.

Call it as it is, stop romanticizing it.