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The Washington Post has landed in hot water with several women’s advocacy groups this week, after publishing two articles about rape that have been accused of failing to take sexual assault seriously.
In the first piece, regular columnist George Will argued that the focus on the college sexual assault crisis has ensured that being a rape victim is now “a coveted status that confers privileges.” In the second — which was published on the Washington Post’s new opinions venture, called “Post Everything” — two conservative writers suggested that women should get married in order to reduce rates of violence against women, largely by misinterpreting the data on intimate partner violence.
The two articles sparked widespread outrage — including a hashtag, #SurvivorPrivilege, created specifically to push back on the notion that rape victims have some kind of elevated status in society — and have led some protesters to make some serious demands of the prestigious publication.
The D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence is asking the Washington Post to release a statement responding to the criticism of the recent pieces, as well as commit to publicizing more information about local services available for survivors. The group points out that Post Everything should have published other perspectives on domestic violence to make it clear that the argument about marriage is subjective.
Karma Cottman, the executive director of the organization, told DCist that it’s the publication’s responsibility to use better judgment “even when it comes to editorials and opinion pieces, because it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous in terms of the reporting. It’s dangerous in terms of survivors that are reading this and feel like they don’t have support from their community. And it’s dangerous in terms of continuing the rape culture that we’re all working toward ending.”
The feminist group UltraViolet is also getting in on the action, calling on the Washington Post to fire George Will with a new petition that’s already garnered more than 87,000 signatures. “The past week has seen the Washington Post devolve to violent and shameful rhetoric that normalizes rape and violence against women. In the face of a national epidemic of sexual violence, The Washington Post should take a stand against rape — starting by firing George Will,” Nita Chaudhary, one of the co-founders of UltraViolet, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a separate petition demanding Will’s termination has been launched on Change.org. That petition is calling on the Post to fire the person responsible for the paper’s editorial page, too. “Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt has also demonstrated a lack of understanding of why rape can’t be justified by one of the country’s leading news sources, and he also needs to go,” it explains.
This isn’t the first time the Washington Post has sparked outrage for an opinion column about rape. Last fall, the outlet published an editorial by Richard Cohen that suggested Miley Cyrus is responsible for a “teen culture” that promotes rape. Cohen was widely criticized for downplaying sexual assault and obscuring the personal responsibility of the individuals who commit that crime. Although he’s also penned a long list of similarly controversial columns, Cohen remains employed by the Post.
It’s hardly uncommon for prominent writers to use their media platforms to publish articles that question the seriousness of rape culture. The most popular arguments along these lines claim that feminists are overreacting about rape culture, statistics about sexual assaults are inflated, and rape victims are equally responsible for their assault if they’ve been drinking alcohol. But social media now allows a wide range of women, including those who have personally been victims of sexual assault, to challenge those arguments even without access to a regular column in a prominent newspaper.