This seems to be the week of poor analogies made by intelligent, Oscar-winning actresses. A day after Gwyneth Paltrow's Internet trolls/war comment caused a major backlash, Charlize Theron is under fire for a remark she made likening media intrusion to rape.
In an interview with U.K.'s Sky News, the A Million Ways to Die in the West actress was asked if she ever searched her own name on the web. She replied, "I don't do that, so that's my saving grace. When you start living in that world, and doing that, you start I guess feeling raped." When asked if she meant to use that phrasing, the single mom said, "Well, when it comes to your son and your private life. Maybe it's just me. Some people might relish in all that stuff but there are certain things in my life that I think of as very sacred and I am very protective over them."
The 38-year-old, whose high-profile relationship with Sean Penn has drawn a ton of media attention this year, clearly meant raped of her privacy, not physically assaulted. However, her controversial comment quickly sparked criticism across the Internet, especially on Twitter, and we asked a spokesperson for anti-sexual assault organization RAINN to weigh in.
"We wish Charlize Theron had used a more appropriate metaphor to describe the experience of being a celebrity in the era of digital media," Katherine Hull Fliflet tells Yahoo. "The horror of being raped should never be compared to the 'unpleasantness' someone could experience by Googling themselves."
And a spokesperson for SCAR, which is the Student Coalition Against Rape, also shared her thoughts.
"These sorts of comments are disheartening, especially from individuals like Ms. Theron, who have firsthand experience with interpersonal violence," says SCAR co-founder and co-director Tucker Reed. "Rape is a hate crime. It is important that, as a society, we choose to never trivialize the pain and suffering faced by rape victims and their families. It can be extremely triggering for survivors to encounter the term being used carelessly or for shock value."
She continued, "Ms. Theron is not the first actress to liken press intrusion to rape, but we certainly hope she will be one of the last. That said, obviously very few of us will ever know what it is like to live under the microscope as an international celebrity, to be the focus of intense media scrutiny and cultural obsession, and we certainly sympathize with Ms. Theron's frustration when it comes to violations of her privacy."
In fairness to Theron, she's long been an advocate against female violence. The South African star, who is a U.N. Messenger of Peace and also fronts the charity Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, witnessed her mother shoot her alcoholic father to death while he was threatening the family when she was just 15. In 1999, she started working with a Cape Town rape crisis center and appeared in an ad campaign called Real Men Don't Rape. In the ad — which was controversial and, for a time, banned — she has tough words on the topic:
In recent years, Theron, who won an Academy Award in 2004 for her portrayal of a domestic violence victim turned serial killer in Monster, supported The International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict and promoted the U.N.'s Stop Rape Now campaign.
Theron isn't the first famous person to ignite a firestorm over the misuse of the word. In 2010, Kristen Stewart publicly apologized for her "enormous mistake" after telling British Elle that seeing paparazzi pictures of herself was like "looking at someone being raped." A year later, Johnny Depp said something along the same lines to Vanity Fair. "You just feel like you're being raped somehow," he said of being photographed. "Raped... It feels like a kind of weird… just weird, man."
[This story was originally published May 30, 2014, at 3:05 p.m. PT.]