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.