Long before I became an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse, my blood would boil when I heard or read euphemisms for violence, murder, abuse and rape. Consider the difference in these statements:
A former sheriff has been accused of having sex with a 10-year-old male.
Former Sheriff accused of raping and sodomizing a 10-year-old boy.
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Stealing and a possible love triangle are possible causes for the double homicide.
A man who was released from prison after serving 8 years of a 25-year sentence for murder, was arrested last night for allegedly murdering his 51-year-old girlfriend and her 15-year-old daughter; who were found dead in their home with multiple hammer blows to their heads and faces.
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Her husband forced sex on her.
He punched his wife repeatedly before he held her at gun point while he raped her.
In each case, the second statement paints a picture that no one wants to envision. Yet, these are real incidents that occur frequently. Sadly, there are countless incidents in which our society downplays violent crime by “prettying” or “sterilizing” the language to describe the crime and by reporting possible motives in an inflammatory way.
Homicide sounds sterile, distant, or may refer to an accidental death caused by negligence (often used as “vehicular homicide“). It’s just not the same as the description of a purposeful murder in which your thoughts might be drawn to the horrible scene or possibly the victim’s last moments.
Sex should never be used to describe a violation of an unwilling participant’s body. While people choose to engage in different types of sex, the key is choice. A child is not capable of making that choice. Sex after “No” is rape; a violent act that usually inflicts permanent physical damage to the victim, including painful tears in tissue and sometimes an inability for a woman to carry a child. In addition, victims often struggle with mental illnesses such as suicidal ideation, alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Let’s save the word “sex” for something wonderful; in whatever way that consenting adults choose to enjoy it.
What are the results of sterilizing the language of violent crimes?
Victims of trauma (those who survive) are re-traumatized and feel shame. A victim’s reputation is damaged.
A victim’s loved ones are re-traumatized, especially when there’s a strong focus in how the victim may have caused the crime (wrong clothing, drinking, etc.).
Society sympathizes with perpetrators due to compelling excuses.
The prevalence and severity of violence in our society is muted.
Other living survivors of violent crimes, such as domestic violence and rape, are reluctant to come forward and report crimes to police.
Laws to protect society from violent criminals, including perpetrators of domestic abuse and sex offenders, remain inadequate. And, too often, justice is not served and society is not protected from these perpetrators.
Perhaps we need to paint a true picture of violence, rape and murder if we want a society that does not tolerate these heinous crimes.