The language of rape culture normalizes violence

Using passive language to discuss sexual violence shifts attention from abusers. 


Courtesy of Unsplash

Using passive voice when referring to sexual assault focuses on victims rather than on their abusers.

Lauren Good, Staff Writer

Society has become more aware of violence against women in recent years due to the rise of feminism and the Me Too movement. Oftentimes, the language surrounding the topic is commonly expressed by how many women are killed, raped and assaulted by men. This use of passive voice, in which the result of the assault is more emphasized than the perpetrator, directly correlates with the normalization of violence against women, called rape culture. Using the sentence structure with men as the subject and women as the object bluntly diverts the attention from how many men are killing, raping and assaulting women.


The World Health Organization reports that thirty percent of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner or non-partner in their lifetime. The United Kingdom branch of the United Nations asked over 1,000 women living in the UK to participate in a survey. The results of the study comprised ninety-seven percent of women saying they have experienced some form of sexual harassment. 

According to statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 81% of women reported experiencing some type of sexual harassment and/or assault in a nationwide study conducted in 2018. The media emphasizes how many women have experienced violence but does not similarly underscore how many men have inflicted it. 

Violence against women, whether physical, sexual or both, is an international epidemic. This urgent issue directly affects the physical and mental health of all women and violates their human rights. Even if a woman has not been physically or sexually assaulted, clear statistics alert every woman of the possibility that they may be targeted. 

Women continue to be portrayed as victims in statistical reports and in media conversations. There is a lack of attention on the assaulters and perpetrators of this violence. 


Rape culture  — heavily ingrained in today’s society — protects men who inflict violence on women; this culture attributes their harmful behavior to natural reactions.

According to Inside Southern, “Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

Rape culture is the normalization of violence against women, specifically sexual violence, and usually blames the victims for the incidents they endure. Victim blaming turns the attention back on the women and focuses on what they can do to prevent these situations. 

According to Vox, “Rape culture is a culture in which sexual violence is treated as the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults. It’s not just about sexual violence itself, but about cultural norms and institutions that protect rapists, promote impunity, shame victims, and demand that women make unreasonable sacrifices to avoid sexual assault.”

Focusing on violence against women pushes the blame onto them. This focus ignores the violent behaviors of rapists, and normalizes the idea that women are inherently at risk of these assaults. 


Discussions about violence against women tend to use passive voice, meaning that in the sentence the subject is no longer the focus of the action. Using passive voice in a discussion about assault stresses the action against the victim, rather than focusing on what the role of the perpetrator.

In September 2021, the official Instagram account for the organization Women’s March Sydney posted an infographic that addressed the use of passive voice in this context. “Stop making the conversation about violence against women passive,” it read. The post listed multiple examples of sentences that used passive voice when referring to assault, and then crossed that sentence out, replacing it with a sentence that communicated the same meaning but in active voice. For example,  “How many women are killed by men every year?” can be rephrased to instead say “How many men kill women every year?” 

By re-wording the sentence, it becomes clear that passive voice diverts attention away from the perpetrator. Using passive voice unjustly blames victims rather than their abusers. This type of descriptive language perpetuates rape culture by subtly normalizing violence. By not placing the blame for violence where it is due, the blame falls on the victim for having been hurt in the first place.

Choosing to shift focus onto the people who act violently changes the way people talk about assault. When hearing of someone who was assaulted, the perpetrator tends to fade into the background as a mysterious, faceless figure. On the other hand, those hearing that someone assaulted someone else may be more likely to look around and wonder, “Who could have done that?” or “Do I know them personally?”

Using active voice to address assault is an important step on the way to dismantling rape culture and changing the way that assault is handled in society.

Resources for victims of sexual assault at Biola can be found here.

5 1 vote
Article Rating