Thursday, July 28, 2005

Words Count

Words really do make a difference. They influence how we perceive issues and events; they color our worldviews.

That's why careful writers pay attention to the words they choose.

A recent San Jose Mercury News story ("52-year-old pleads not guilty to having sex with minor," July 20, 2005, p. 7A) needed a bit more attention to word choice. The news brief reported on the arraignment of an HIV-positive Redwood City man who'd been accused of molesting his 8-year-old stepdaughter. The article went on to say "...he's believed to have carried on a sexual relationship with the girl from April through late June."

That wording set off alarm bells in my head. Let's get real. How does an 8-year-old "carry on a sexual relationship"?

What we're talking about here is rape, not "a relationship." Pedophiles may prefer to think of it a "sexual relationship," but the rest of us don't need to use pretty euphemisms for such an ugly act. I say, let's call a spade a spade.

Most likely, MN reporter Jessie Seyfer was just trying to vary her wording and avoid repetition in this short article... and, hey, she'd already used "molesting" in the lead and "having sex" at the start of the second graph. But I'd rather see some repetition than the use of mealy-mouth wording that leaves the impression that children have any say in the matter when a trusted adult molests them.

I wrote to Seyfer, expressing my concerns. Here's the response I got from Seyfer and her editor, Peter Delevett:

"Thanks very much for your comments on how we referred to an alleged 8-year-old victim of sexual assault by her 52-year-old stepfather. The concerns you raise are important and certainly valid, and in retrospect, we might have handled the wording differently. Sex involving an 8-year-old is most definitely rape, and it's never our intention to gloss over the realities of child abuse.
"Again, we appreciate your close attention to wording."

No comments: