Being aware of our language surrounding sexual violence

by CCASA Communications

When I started work today, the article “Superintendent ‘heartbroken’ over sex-assault charges against Edmonton Catholic teacher” came across my desk and though the article itself does not side with the offender, the title of the article does. In working for CCASA – a sexual assault centre that strives to impact attitudes and behaviours around the crime of sexual violence, it made me think that we still need to look at ourselves and really be aware of what we say when we talk about this crime, as the language we use can often help frame people’s opinions when it comes to responsibility and blame.

This particular article, outline the details of a 27 year old teacher who has been accused of luring a child, invitations to sexual touching, sexual interference and sexual assault of a 15 year old student.

Two major language issues come into play when looking at this article. The first starts with the title which can serve to shape the reader’s perception before they even begin to read it. The importance of a title too can also dissuade a person from even reading the article as they may feel they already know what is going to be said thus potentially missing out on what could be important information. The second surrounds the overuse of the word “allegedly” that is often seen when talking about someone being charged with sexual violence. In media it is important to understand the affect that language can have on people’s perceptions and the story being told. In this particular story, the headline implies the superintendent is sympathizing with the accused whereas sympathy should be with the survivor as they are innocent in this crime. The language seen in the title is detrimental in supporting the survivor of this crime.

The word “allegedly” was also used throughout the article which can skew the reader’s perception and imply the offender did not commit the crime (innocent until proven guilty concept). In this case in particular the word allegedly is used often and it detracts from the offender’s role in preying on a young student for sex, and that this is a crime of sexual abuse. It is important to note that less than 3% of all people charged with sexual abuse are falsely accused. This stat is important to remember when considering how the use of the word allegedly multiple times can skew reader’s perceptions.

We know that it is very important that a survivor of this crime is believed and supported. By creating doubt about the validity of the charge we undermine this important aspect of dealing with the issue of sexual abuse. The facts of this case can stand alone and the use of the word allegedly is unnecessary. Stating that someone has been charged with an offense is accurate and does not imply a conviction. The rest of the details of an investigation that are available can be detailed without using the term allegedly to describe them.

Being careful not to take away from the severity of this crime and issue is of the utmost importance. The crime of child sexual abuse is one the impacts our entire society and needs to be handled in way that upholds offender accountability and eliminates victim blaming messages.

By paying more attention to the language we use in media we can help eliminate the stigma that sexual abuse and sexual assault are crimes that are often made up and reinforce that these crimes are in fact under reported and need to be recognized for their severity.

If you would like to read the article mentioned above please follow the link below:

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