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Perspectives: A Magazine for and about Women Lawyers, Vol. 23, No. 3 Winter 2015 | Words Matter: How Language Reflects Our Response to Sexual Violence

(03/09/2015) Be Aware of Semantics: The responsibility of those inside the courtroom to hold defendants accountable while supporting sexual assault victims is central to the work of AEquitas, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. Staffed by seven former prosecutors with specialization in violence against women, the nonprofit holds trainings for prosecutors in the United States and other countries.

AEquitas staffer Viktoria Kristiansson says “sex” itself can be the biggest semantic stumbling block. “The fact that we—prosecutors, law enforcement—continue to use ‘sex’ when describing sexual assault, rape, indecent sexual conduct makes it difficult for a layperson who doesn’t understand what rape can be,” says Kristiansson, who began prosecuting cases in 2003. The language paints victims as merely experiencing regret over a bad sexual encounter and has the effect of “mis-representing facts and thus furthering myths,” she notes.

[Please note: Winter 2015 Perspectives (Commission on Women in the Profession: American Bar Association) is not yet available online]

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