Dear Daily Beast, Sexual Assault Is Not Entertainment


The author of  “13 Naughtiest Bits From the Masseur Lawsuit Against John Travolta” has used words to describe sexual assault that are defined as mischievous, impish, racy, spicy, juicy, sexy, lustful, appealing to or stimulating of sexual desire, playful.  How is that okay with you?

This is who you say you are: “The Daily Beast provides expert insight & opinion on the day’s most important news stories in the world of politics, int’l affairs, finance, science, culture & more.”  So I have to ask you, since when is making light of sexual assault appropriate?  And why is such a thing being condoned and promoted by you?

The author of this article describes the reported details of an alleged sexual assault as “naughty bits” & “salacious.”  Words both preposterous & reprehensible in the context of a conversation about sexual assault. Which, in case you’ve somehow forgotten, is a heinous crime of violence.

When you call the particulars of sexual assault “salacious” you are deeming them as tittilating, lusty, gossip-worthy, which I find stomach-turning-offensive.

Use of the adjective “naughty” when describing the various acts that comprised a sexual assault is unconscionable.  Let’s say for a moment that your sister or mother were a massage therapist and had her breast grabbed by a client. Would you call the client’s action naughty? Please tell me how, in both the judgement of this author & you, the publisher, equating sexual assault with “misbehaving” takes place.

Perhaps the author of this article is under the impression that if a sexual assault victim is male, it is somehow less of a crime, not as shattering or shame-inducing.  Perhaps she imagines that in the cases of sexual assault where no visible marks or abrasions have been inflicted, that there is no scarring, that the crime is somehow less of an assault, not-quite violent.  Perhaps she thinks that the allegations of this particular sexual assault are likely false and that allows her lee-way with the language she employs.  Perhaps, because the body of the article is largely comprised of quotes lifted, she says, directly from legal documents, she believes she was avoiding taking sides and not expressing a personal bias. When the headline and intro you craft bandy about words that insult and demean every victim of sexual assault and diminish the crime of it to unsavory conduct, that’s blatant bias, and it doesn’t get any more personal, trust me.

Falsely accusing someone of a crime is a crime. This author’s use of language is all but laughing at the suffering of a victim of slander. Which is all the more egregious when the nature of that slander is perhaps the most horrific sort. John Travolta isn’t being accused of stealing, buying drugs or punching a photographer; he’s being accused of sexual assault. When you make light of the crime he’s being accused of, you cannot avoid making light of the consequences of being falsely accused of that crime.

Now imagine that your brother or your father, your husband, has been accused of sexual assault.  Would it be fair or accurate to say that your husband is being accused of being naughty?  If your best friend asked you what, exactly, the alleged victim is saying that your loved one did, how would you feel if your friend phrased her request, “Give me all the naughtiest bits.”

This author hand-picked details from an account of alleged sexual assault and held them up with sensational glee – as sport, as entertainment.  Veracity of the allegations aside, the language and tone of this entire article make light of the crime of sexual assault, which in turn belies the gravity of being accused of sexual assault.  Most disturbing of all, this author has basically said that perpetrators of sexual assault are being “naughty.”  You know, just misbehaving.

I believe language matters, that words have power.  I’m trying to understand why someone would make a point of talking about sexual assault in a way that makes it sound like a case of poor conduct or simply not minding one’s manners.  I’m trying to understand why someone would treat the legal document containing details of sexual assault (alleged or not) as if it were a Where’s Waldo of juicy, gossip-worthy tidbits (Oh, look, there’s another one!).  I’m trying to understand how all of this fits with your claim, Daily Beast, of providing “expert insight and opinion.”

Again, I ask you:  how is any of this okay with you?  It sure as hell isn’t okay with me.

In proofreading what I have written here, I have just realized that never once did I type the name of the author of the article in question.  At first this astonished me.  My profound disgust and righteous fury are such that it seems perfectly reasonable I would’ve used her name at every opportunity, thrown it, over and over again, like plates against a wall.  But I get it now, that being unwilling (unable?) to name her is the cyber-space equivalent of when the awfulness of something is too monumental (big enough to knock you down, sweep you away), too overwhelming in its ugliness and stench (if you get too close it will get on you, infect you, never wash out). When anger, disbelief and revulsion flood our brains, that toxic recipe is often translated into fear.  Which in turn communicates to our bodies the same adrenaline-rush neuro-message that it sends, say, when we’re in the wild, cornered and threatened by something feral, potentially life-threatening.  Not looking directly at a dangerous, powerful creature–not meeting its eyes–is a primal instinct, a brain/body self-defense mechanism.  It is the source and heart of the phrase, I can’t even look at you right now.

I cannot spell out that woman’s name.   And even if I could write it, I refuse to.

Denise Lanier, whose mother and grandmother, an aunt and a cousin, were victims of sexual assault; who has many sisters-friends who have been victims of sexual assault; who has been the victim of sexual assault,

Houston, TX


About deniselanier

I am an educator & advocate, poet & performer, speaker & storyteller who believes in the power of narrative to transform & transport, create & connect. I was the shy, awkward girl who didn’t fit in, was often bullied, happiest with my nose in books, whose best friend was my dog. After being cast in a play in my teens I discovered a way to be comfortable in my own skin, bringing to life the words of a character. Costumed in make-believe I dared to be more of myself than I ever allowed off-stage; I claimed my voice. I spent most of my adult life teaching others to raise their own voices, through acting, creative writing, even slam poetry. When the diagnosis of MS intervened in my 30s I had to let go of acting, which is why most of my storytelling is now expressed through page and less “formal” interactions with stages. I devote much of my time to kids, teaching them to use words & imagination, developing authentic, resilient, remarkable voices. I endeavor to grow in my students the belief, the truth, that we are all artists & the change-makers in our own stories. My best friend still has fur & four legs. My mobility assistance dog is my constant companion, teaching assistant & muse to many. Luke is also chief partner in crime; I’m getting a reputation for stealing things. As inventor of a poetic form called klepto-collaborative, I pickpocket words & phrases from others, reshuffling & reshaping the puzzle-pieces into a colorful, storied mosaic of diverse voices. Taking something from every speaker at a conference in real-time, I craft a collective poem that highlights the messages of the day, repurposing ideas & refashioning stories, weaving them together in a manner that never loses the originality & spirit of the speakers’ themes. So while I may be a word thief, I figure being eco-conscious makes up for it. I’m available to facilitate wordy goodness in your community, school, workplace or play space. I like to think I have way of transforming annual meetings into something interactive, cooperative & memorable. Through my klepto-collaborative poems I aim to delight, to ignite conversation, and maybe even incite innovation. I earned an MFA from Florida International University, where I edited Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. I’m the founder of WordPlay, a poetry-in-the-schools project inspired by Dave Eggers. My poetry has appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Cake, Luna, Best American Poetry blog (a collaborative poem with the phenomenal Denise Duhamel), Wicked Good Life, and various anthologies. My non-fiction has appeared in the Miami Herald and my fiction has been nominated for Best New American Voices. &

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s