(Mis)Representation Of Sexual Assault Survivors By Media

The media plays a pivotal role in influencing public perceptions & societal norms by creating narratives surrounding sexual violence. The impact of media narratives can either perpetuate harmful biases or contribute to transformative change.

Ishika Thanvi
New Update

Image credit: Flickr

The media plays a pivotal role in influencing public perceptions, societal norms, and individual attitudes, particularly when it comes to narratives surrounding sexual violence. This influence is not merely passive; it actively constructs and reproduces societal norms related to gender and violence, shaping our collective reality. Understanding the profound impact of media narratives is crucial, as they can either perpetuate harmful biases or contribute to transformative change.


This article delves into the impact of media language on the perception of sexual assault survivors, revealing the power dynamics inherent in the choice of words and the broader implications for societal norms.

Deconstructing Language

Language, as a formidable tool within media narratives, holds the potential to redefine societal attitudes towards sexual assault. The nuances embedded in sentences, such as the choice between labeling someone as a "victim of sexual assault" versus a "sexual assault survivor," can profoundly shape societal attitudes. This simple change in language challenges the narrative that women are perpetual victims, reframing them as resilient survivors with agency.

Passive Voice and the Shifting of Responsibility

The use of passive voice in reporting sexual assault subtly shifts the burden of responsibility from the perpetrator to the survivor. 

Instead of stating "a woman was raped," a more accurate and responsible construction would be "(name of the rapist) raped a woman." 


This linguistic shift places accountability where it belongs, on the perpetrator, rather than unintentionally perpetuating victim-blaming narratives.

Active Voice and Focusing on the Harasser

The way media outlets cover stories about sexual harassment is equally important. Choosing an active voice not only accurately describes the act but also places the spotlight on the harasser rather than the survivor. This shift in focus challenges traditional power dynamics and disrupts the tendency to victimize survivors through language.

The Airbrushing Effect of Phrases

Certain phrases, such as 'violence against women,' have the unintended consequence of airbrushing perpetrators out of the narrative altogether. This erasure perpetuates a skewed perspective that obscures the reality of who commits sexual violence and reinforces harmful stereotypes.

Effects of Passive Narration on Victims


Passive narration not only distorts responsibility but also has detrimental effects on the survivors themselves. By shifting the focus onto how the 'victim' found themselves in a compromising situation, it inadvertently supports theories of victim precipitation. This theory unjustly holds victims responsible for the assault based on factors like clothing or behavior, further perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

Visual Representation

Beyond language, visual elements accompanying media stories on sexual assault contribute significantly to the narrative. Images depicting suggestive or stereotypical scenarios, such as a creepy hand groping a woman, can reinforce pre-existing biases and contribute to the objectification of survivors. Challenging these visual representations is as crucial as scrutinizing the language used in media narratives.

In conclusion, a critical examination of language within media narratives surrounding sexual assault is essential for dismantling biases and promoting a more accurate and empowering discourse.

By being mindful of the language we use, media outlets can contribute to a societal shift in attitudes towards survivors and foster an environment that challenges, rather than perpetuates, harmful stereotypes related to sexual violence.


Views expressed by the author are their own

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