When it comes to reporting about the horrific crime of childhood sexual abuse, language matters. Yet recent alarming reporting has revealed a critical need for increased education and better understanding by the news media about the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation so that more accurate and appropriate reporting can be done on this serious crime.
A minor child or teen cannot legally consent to sex regardless of the circumstances – yet the media’s use of language such as “relationship,” “sex with,” “romantic,” and “girlfriend” implies consent. While this distinction may seem semantical to some in the newsroom, we know the words used in reporting journalism have an effect on the way members of the community consider and view the world and its happenings, especially if readers, viewers, or listeners have little to no background knowledge about the issue at hand.
Many thankfully do not have any experience or understanding about the complex issue of childhood sexual abuse or the psychological manipulation and grooming victims suffer, which elevates the media’s responsibility to convey the most accurate information possible. Ninety percent of the time, a child sexual abuser is someone the child victim and the adults in the child’s life not only know, but have come to love and trust through a process called grooming. Grooming is a sinister process which allows abusers to desensitize children, preparing them to be tricked into sexual abuse by first building a friendly and trusting rapport, then testing and violating boundaries, using secret-keeping, and escalating touches or sexualized behavior.
That’s why Lauren’s Kids created the at-a-glance Media Reporting Language Guide to help educate journalists about the impact language choice has on both the collective understanding of the community and on victims of abuse, with examples of language do’s and don’ts. Members of the media must understand that the manipulation and grooming of a minor child is not the same as a consensual relationship, and reporting must reflect this truth.