Module 11
How Accurate Language About Sexual Assault Supports Victims in the Criminal Justice System

How the Language Used To Describe Sexual Violence Shapes Perceptions of the Harm To Victims and the Culpability of Offenders.

The words and phrases on the word association list on the previous page connote welcome, consensual acts. None connotes sexual violence. Yet these terms are constantly used in descriptions of sexual assault, whether in police reports, judges’ opinions, media reports, or discussions among criminal justice professionals and the public. This is damaging to victims because the language we and others use to describe sexual violence can convey its horror or sanitize and distance it.  Language that conveys an accurate “word picture” of the assault supports victims as they navigate the criminal justice system.

Discussions and descriptions of sexual violence often use language that ascribes blame to victims and minimizes the perpetrator’s responsibility by:

  • Using the language of consensual sex to describe sexual violence;
  • Describing victims in terms that objectify them or blame them for the violence;
  • Using linguistic avoidance to distance and minimize the violence and create the ”invisible perpetrator.”

This module will explain these distortions and their impact, and suggest ways that you can use language more accurately as well as educate your local media, your colleagues, and other justice system professionals.

This module will be available to you as soon as you complete Module 1. To complete a module, you must read each of the lessons and complete the review quiz at the end.

It is important to finish Module 1 so that you have sufficient context for the rest of the program. After that, you'll have full access to jump between lessons however works best for you.

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