I am writing in response to the Oct. 12 story, Lawyer Argues No Jail in Sex Assault.
It behooves me to highlight the language used in our judicial system, media, and general society to describe sexualized violence. There are a number of journal articles explaining research on the topic of language in sexualized assault cases in B.C. and Canada.
Language used in court describing sexualized assault is in turn repeated in the media, and then, is normalized by society in everyday discussion. Attributing certain social or psychological qualities diminishes the perpetrator’s responsibility, “she was so convincing,” and when used in conjunction with other language serves to conceal the violence of sexualized assault, conceal the resistance of the victims, and blame the victims (Wade and Coates, 2004).
Despite the fact that Canadian law defines sexual assault as inherently violent, Wade and Coates found that judgments in court reflecting sexualized assaults are not treated as violent.
Instead, language is reformulated and the act(s) no longer account for the one-sided nature of the sexualized violence and effectively silences the victim’s experience of the sexualized violence.
The analyses of the Canadian and B.C. legal documents reflect the language used by society when talking about these types of cases. I am referring to such terms as fondling, rubbing, caressing and intercourse, which paint the acts as consensual, positive, pleasurable, affectionate and erotic.
This language mutualizes violent behaviour, removes responsibility from the perpetrator and implies that the victim is partially to blame (Wade and Coates, 2004).
It is important to note that a sexualized assault is not a sexual interaction simply because the perpetrator describes it in that way (Bavelas and Coates, 2001). Yet, by repeating this language, we are blindly reproducing injustice.
Bavelas and Coates explain that we are using terms that characterize sexualized assaults as sex rather than assaults and therefore, we are minimizing the violence of the act — we are normalizing it and making it easier for us to see and hear.
Thus, the victim’s confusion, sadness, fear, disgust, objectification and pain are completely hidden from us. It is incumbent upon everyone involved in the judicial process, those who report (media) and the public to also know this: to conceal the violence of sexualized assaults is to also conceal the victims’ courage in surviving it (Bavelas and Coates, 2001).
I suggest your newspaper revise the article published and in addition, I hope you endeavour to do thorough research and ethical journalism in this area. You have an opportunity to be a part of the solution, instead of the problem.
For example, you could replace the word “intercourse” with “used forcible vaginal penetration” as intercourse implies the participation of two consenting adults, which this, clearly, was not.
In addition, “sexually touched” should be replaced with language that accurately describes the deliberate and selective methods used by the perpetrator to choose when and how he chose to violate a 13-year-old girl. This language better describes the power used by an adult and a man, and his abuse of this power.
Language surrounding sexualized violence cases must change in order to expose violence, clarify responsibility, honour victims’ responses and resistance, and stop the blaming and pathologizing of victims (Wade and Coates, 2004).
Your newspaper has an immediate and direct role in creating just, safe and respectful language beneficial to victims and the rest of society.