A Merced organization that advocates for victims of domestic and sexual abuse said high-profile vulgar and threatening language on Twitter sent to the daughter of former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling this month are examples of all-too-pervasive “rape” language in American culture.
Schilling congratulated his daughter on Twitter recently after she was accepted into Salve Regina University, where she’ll play softball next year. Multiple people posted vulgar, violent and sexually explicit comments about her.
Meghan Kehoe, director of victims advocacy group Valley Crisis Center, saw the incident as something of a teachable moment for young people in particular. She said curbing sexually violent talk is important in a college town like Merced.
“We live in a culture where this is OK,” she said. “The biggest way to get over that is for people to realize it.”
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Nearly one in five women, and one in 71 men, have reported being raped, according to numbers from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The overwhelming majority of women reported the assault occurred while they were of college age or younger.
Kehoe said she doesn’t believe shaming people who use sexually violent language would be productive. She said education and awareness of how often such language is used would go much further. “This is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s happening in our culture that isn’t being (identified),” she said.
She said social media is not to blame on its own. Sexually violent language was around before Facebook and Instagram, she noted, but the new media provide new tools for people who would perpetuate this language.
This month, Schilling wrote on his blog that he was astounded by the ignorance and lack of morals and integrity shown by the men who commented. He reposted Tweets and has identified some of the people responsible. He says it’s never OK for a man to talk about a woman like that and it’s time for it to stop.
Two of the men – identified as Adam Nagel of Brookdale Community College and Sean MacDonald of Montclair State University – have been disciplined.
MacDonald, who was a part-time ticket seller for the New York Yankees, was fired, and Nagel has been suspended from school. Schilling says he knows of seven others who were also punished for their tweets. He has also been contacted by the FBI and local law enforcement about possible criminal charges.
Kari Mansager, director of UC Merced’s violence prevention program, said sexually violent language should be a concern for any town with a large number of young people. She said cyberbullying is likely an issue at the high school level as well.
The university has a number of programs to prevent sexual assault, she said, including an orientation session for all students that covers the language of “rape culture.” The language, jokes and media used or consumed by people can perpetuate that culture.
Mansager said the effort encourages students to step in when they hear those around them use the language. She stressed that students or others should not be confrontational but rather attempt to be enlightening.
Language that makes sexual violence seem normal, she said, has an effect on others.
The language sends a general message that diminishes the destructive nature of the violence, she said. It can also make a survivor of violence feel uncomfortable. And still, someone who has committed a sexually violent act might get the message that they acted in a normal or even funny manner, she said.
“That’s a really dangerous message that I don’t think anybody wants to be encouraging,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.