Language Matters: Why We Need To Be Clear When It Comes to Abuse

Unfortunately, every day in the media, there is conflicting language used in headlines reporting child sexual assault and abuse…


The above examples from the same news publication and almost identical crimes — yet have two very different headlines. Let’s take it a step further, can you spot the error in reporting here?

That’s right, in this instance when the abuser was a woman, Newsweek decided to depict the abuse as “Having Sexual Relationship With 14-Year-Old for 2 Months”. Language matters and when an adult exploits their position of power to sexually abuse and victimize a child, members of the media have a responsibility to use language which accurately articulates the crime.

Whether the perpetrator is male or female or ANY other circumstance, a child CANNOT consent. It’s never “sex with”, but always “abuse/assault of”… ALWAYS!

Any depiction of child sexual abuse as a “relationship” is not merely semantical, it’s a damaging misrepresentation of the truth which furthers stigma and misinformation. A child cannot consent. Perpetrators manipulatively groom children to break down barriers, test secret-keeping, and foster trust and intimacy before violating the ultimate boundary. Many victims do not disclose for fear of being shamed, blamed, or not believed. Today, 75% of child victims don’t report sexual abuse for a year, 45% stay silent for at least five years, and many never tell.

As a society we need to educate the age old saying of if you know better, you do better. Language which depicts a child as a willing participant in their abuse must be immediately corrected and further remedied in future reporting. While 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will become a victim of sexual abuse before age 18, and sexual assault continues to be the most under-reported crime in America, we can all work together to shine light into the darkness. Help us amplify this important message by sharing our Abuse Language Guide here!