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Language Matters In Sexual Assault. Language to Look At The use of the language of consensual sex The use of the language of consensual sex The use of.

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Presentation on theme: "Language Matters In Sexual Assault. Language to Look At The use of the language of consensual sex The use of the language of consensual sex The use of."— Presentation transcript:

1 Language Matters In Sexual Assault

2 Language to Look At The use of the language of consensual sex The use of the language of consensual sex The use of the passive voice The use of the passive voice Use of “reported” vs “alleged.” Use of “reported” vs “alleged.”

3 How We Write & Talk about Sexual Assault is Important “When we discuss sexual assault, we constantly use the language of consensual sex to describe assaultive acts. We use euphemisms, erotic or affectionate terms to portray violent acts. This language often implies consent and romance rather than criminal acts. In addition we describe violence against women in passive terms which allow the perpetrators of this violence to remain invisible and unaccountable.” Claudia Bayliff (2001) is past Chief of US Airforce’s Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Program; she is now part of a nation-wide program to educate judges and other legal personnel about sexual assault.

4 The Impact of Language We are not, as examiners, qualified to judge if a crime has been committed. We can only report what we are told, what we have seen in our interaction with our patient, and what our opinions are of the findings, given the history. We are not, as examiners, qualified to judge if a crime has been committed. We can only report what we are told, what we have seen in our interaction with our patient, and what our opinions are of the findings, given the history. We must use unbiased language in our reports and in the court room. We must use unbiased language in our reports and in the court room. When describing a sexual assault, we must be aware that our choice of words can contribute to a climate of doubt and victim blaming, or can clearly present a patient’s experience of sexual assault, without crossing the boundaries into judgment of a crime. When describing a sexual assault, we must be aware that our choice of words can contribute to a climate of doubt and victim blaming, or can clearly present a patient’s experience of sexual assault, without crossing the boundaries into judgment of a crime.

5 The Impact of Language Language affects thoughts just as thoughts affect language. Language affects thoughts just as thoughts affect language. So, when we document or describe a reported sexual assault, we affect the way people think about that sexual assault. So, when we document or describe a reported sexual assault, we affect the way people think about that sexual assault..

6 The Language of Consensual Sex Abounds in Sexual Assault A 2001 study looked at trial judgments in 75 sexual offences cases in BC. A 2001 study looked at trial judgments in 75 sexual offences cases in BC. After dividing them into 5 categories, based on the kind of language used, the biggest category was sexual or mutualising language, including terms such as intercourse or fondling. After dividing them into 5 categories, based on the kind of language used, the biggest category was sexual or mutualising language, including terms such as intercourse or fondling. When we describe sexual assault this way, the language implies mutual pleasure, cooperation, and consent. When we describe sexual assault this way, the language implies mutual pleasure, cooperation, and consent. The violence of the act is obscured and readers/listeners form an inaccurate perception of the event. The violence of the act is obscured and readers/listeners form an inaccurate perception of the event. Two Canadian studies showed that, when judges used the language of consensual sex, the sentence length given to perpetrators decreased. Two Canadian studies showed that, when judges used the language of consensual sex, the sentence length given to perpetrators decreased.

7 #1 Remember to use Non-Consensual Language Instead of consensual language, use anatomical terms and simply describe what the assailant has forced your patient to do with those parts of the body.

8 Compare Consensual Language He made her kiss him He made her kiss him He made her have sex/anal sex with him He made her have sex/anal sex with him He had her perform fellatio on him He had her perform fellatio on him He forced cunnilingus He forced cunnilingus Non-consensual Language He forced his mouth on hers He forced his mouth on hers He forced penile- vaginal/anal penetration He forced penile- vaginal/anal penetration He forced his penis into her mouth He forced his penis into her mouth He forced his mouth on her genitals He forced his mouth on her genitals

9 Consensual Language in Sexual Assault The first known male stood behind her and had intercourse with her, while the second known male stood in front and made her perform oral sex on him. The first known male stood behind her and had intercourse with her, while the second known male stood in front and made her perform oral sex on him.

10 Non-Consensual Language in Sexual Assault The first known male stood behind her and forced penile-vaginal penetration, while the second known male stood in front and forced his penis into her mouth. The first known male stood behind her and forced penile-vaginal penetration, while the second known male stood in front and forced his penis into her mouth.

11 Consensual Language in Sexual Assault She said he kissed her. He then gave her oral sex, and after that he had vaginal intercourse with her. She said he kissed her. He then gave her oral sex, and after that he had vaginal intercourse with her.

12 Non-Consensual Language in Sexual Assault She reported that he forced his tongue into her mouth, forced his mouth on her genitals and then forced his penis into her vagina. She reported that he forced his tongue into her mouth, forced his mouth on her genitals and then forced his penis into her vagina.

13 Passive, Unaccountable Language She was thrown against the wall, and then she was sexually assaulted. She was thrown against the wall, and then she was sexually assaulted. What is suboptimal about this sentence? What is suboptimal about this sentence? What is missing? What is missing?

14 #2 Active, Accountable Language The assailant and his actions are missing in the history: The assailant and his actions are missing in the history: The known male threw her against a wall, and then forced penile-vaginal penetration.

15 The Difference In the first version, the passive voice is used. That means the person acted upon appears in the sentence, while the “actor” is often absent. In the first version, the passive voice is used. That means the person acted upon appears in the sentence, while the “actor” is often absent. In passive sentences, the offender is invisible. He is not held accountable for his actions. This is called unaccountable language. In passive sentences, the offender is invisible. He is not held accountable for his actions. This is called unaccountable language.

16 The Difference If we turn the passive sentence into an active and accountable one by making the “actor” the subject of the statement, The known male threw her against a wall, and then forced penile-vaginal penetration, we spotlight his role in sexual assault. If we turn the passive sentence into an active and accountable one by making the “actor” the subject of the statement, The known male threw her against a wall, and then forced penile-vaginal penetration, we spotlight his role in sexual assault.

17 Example The patient said she was hit on the head. The patient said she was hit on the head. Where is the actor or assailant in this sentence? Where is the actor or assailant in this sentence? Is this active or passive? Is this active or passive? What would another way of saying this be? What would another way of saying this be?

18 The active voice She reported that the unknown male hit her on the head. She reported that the unknown male hit her on the head. In this case the actor (the unknown male) is the subject in an active sentence; again, we spotlight his role in the violent act, as the patient has described it to us. In this case the actor (the unknown male) is the subject in an active sentence; again, we spotlight his role in the violent act, as the patient has described it to us.

19 #3 “Allegations” “To Allege” This is an accepted court term for those familiar with legal language, meaning simply “to assert without proof. ” For lay people, and in actual definition, “alleged” can also mean “doubtful,” or “suspect.” This is an accepted court term for those familiar with legal language, meaning simply “to assert without proof. ” For lay people, and in actual definition, “alleged” can also mean “doubtful,” or “suspect.” Using the term has been encouraged in our reports, as we do not have proof of an “alleged sexual assault” or “alleged assailant.” Using the term has been encouraged in our reports, as we do not have proof of an “alleged sexual assault” or “alleged assailant.” What is wrong with this? What is wrong with this?

20 Language Matters Using the word “alleged” introduces an unnecessary element of skepticism. Using the word “alleged” introduces an unnecessary element of skepticism. In the forensic report, instead of “alleged assailant,” use “ an un/known male.” In the forensic report, instead of “alleged assailant,” use “ an un/known male.” Instead of “alleged sexual assault,” consider “reported sexual assault.” Instead of “alleged sexual assault,” consider “reported sexual assault.”

21 Language Matters Again, while examining our patient, we do not have proof that she was sexually assaulted, nor is it our role to judge in our report or in court if she was assaulted. (We may have significant findings to indicate to us that she was, and our role is to explain this to the court, or to explain that an assault is possible without findings of injury.) While “alleged” can introduce skepticism where none is warranted, “the patient reporting” or “stating, explaining” etc allows for an unbiased presentation of her history, neither undermining her account or presuming to present it as fact. Again, while examining our patient, we do not have proof that she was sexually assaulted, nor is it our role to judge in our report or in court if she was assaulted. (We may have significant findings to indicate to us that she was, and our role is to explain this to the court, or to explain that an assault is possible without findings of injury.) While “alleged” can introduce skepticism where none is warranted, “the patient reporting” or “stating, explaining” etc allows for an unbiased presentation of her history, neither undermining her account or presuming to present it as fact.

22 In Summary #1 Use anatomical terms and simply describe what the assailant has forced your patient to do with those parts of the body. The known male forced her mouth on his penis, or He forced penile-oral penetration. #1 Use anatomical terms and simply describe what the assailant has forced your patient to do with those parts of the body. The known male forced her mouth on his penis, or He forced penile-oral penetration. #2 Use active sentences that highlight the assailant’s, not the patient’s, role: The unknown male pushed her down onto the couch. #2 Use active sentences that highlight the assailant’s, not the patient’s, role: The unknown male pushed her down onto the couch. #3 Do not use “alleged.” She reported that the known male pulled her hair and grabbed her shoulders during the sexual assault. #3 Do not use “alleged.” She reported that the known male pulled her hair and grabbed her shoulders during the sexual assault.

23 Thank you. Dr Blanka Jurenka BCWH SAS Medical Director


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