Judicial Language Project
State of Montana v. Grindheim, 2004 MT 311; 2004 Mont. LEXIS 565 (January 1, 2004)
(Case summary by Carol Jun, law student )
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- Nature of the Case: Child Sexual abuse
- Facts: The 20-year-old defendant victimized a 12-year-old girl by forcing his penis into the child's mouth.
- Problematic Language: The child "performs" oral sex on the adult defendant
- Explanation of Problem: Describing the incident as the child "performs" oral sex on the defendant implies that the child not only actively participated but also bears some moral responsibility for the crime. To "perform" means "to carry out an action or pattern of behavior" and "implies action that follows established patterns or procedures or fulfills agreed-upon requirements and often connotes special skill". (Merriam-Webster on-line Dictionary). This language implies that the child had some will or propensity to carry out the action which not only diminishes the responsibility of the adult perpetrator but causes added harm to the child because research has suggested that attributions of self-blame regarding child sexual abuse are related to some indicators of subsequent poor adjustment for the victim (McMillen, Curtis. "Attributions of blame and responsibility for child sexual abuse and adult adjustment." Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Vol 12 (1), 1997).
- Suggested Alternatives: Instead of using the phrase "perform oral sex", the court should implement a more appropriate phraseology, such as "the defendant put or forced his penis into the child's mouth."