The other day, I was texting a friend while driving. Well, I wasn't actually texting in the conventional sense (that is illegal); I was speaking into my phone's voice recorder, which takes what I say and transcribes it into text. So there I was in the middle of a heavy text conversation -- as heavy as a text conversation can get -- talking about how I was raped. I looked down at my phone and noticed that one of the words read "r****" in place of "raped." "R****?" Really?
Not often is anyone daring enough to censor me, least of all my cell phone. In the past, I've noticed that the voice recorder has blocked certain words and changed them from their original form into a more symbolic "f***," "b****," and "s***." That I can understand- well, no, not really, but I do know that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) blocks many of those words on open channels, so in the conventional sense, I am familiar with those "swear" words being censored, but "rape?"
It was extremely unnerving to me that my smartphone censored the word "rape." Why is "rape" a bad word? In most conversations, I imagine the word "rape" comes up because a person is talking about something that happened to them or maybe about a story they saw on the news. It is unlikely that the person shouting "rape" into the voice-to-text recorder is a rapist sharing their sex crime plans for the evening (and even in that instance, I think it's still a good idea not to censor the word-think incriminating evidence). I estimate that the majority of people who use the word "rape" in a text message are innocent victims, concerned friends, or citizens. This is why I'm bothered that "r***" is what comes out when the word "rape" is spoken into a smartphone's voice-to-text recorder. One of my readers went further to point out the following: what if a person was being raped and tried to text for help? "R***" instead of "rape" is a potentially dangerous substitution for a person who's in imminent danger.
I couldn't just write this article without doing more research. That afternoon, I sat in my office alone with my phone and tested it out. "Rape, rape, rape, raped," I spoke clearly into the phone hoping no one else could hear me. Surely what I was doing would look odd to anyone who happened to walk by. I waited a minute for the phone to transcribe my voice, then looked down at the screen "R***, r***, r***, r*****." Son of a b****, I thought to myself.
"R***?" This is significant and reflective of our culture; a culture where the idea of being a victim of rape is offensive. Am I surprised? No. This society, like many others has a strong victim-blaming policy when it comes to rape crimes. Why should I be surprised that an American cell phone company has the same attitude? Though it is likely that the cell phone manufacturer is responsible for programming this discrepancy into the phone's software, I feel that a cell phone carrier, which brokers the phone, is equally responsible for this distasteful slight.
Some people might not think this is a big deal and that perhaps I'm overreacting. Maybe I should just shut my mouth and be happy that I don't live in Morocco, where I would've been blacklisted by society if I chose not to marry my rapist or in Bangladesh where Sharia Law might allow my family to beat me to death for being the victim of such a crime. Unfortunately, in the US there are people who want victims' of rape to keep their mouths shut as well; people who believe that "rape" is a dirty word.
Rape is not a dirty word. It is a reality. In the U.S. one in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. One in six! That is no small number. An individual healing from the miserable experience that is rape should be able to use the word without censorship. Obviously the U.S. does not punish rape victims in the extreme way that some of the aforementioned countries do. However, I know first hand, as a victim of rape, that living in silence and misery to avoid offending society is a slow death of spirit.
The word is spelled "rape" not "r***." Why won't my smartphone allow me to spell it out? Who or what is my phone trying to protect?
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