Judicial Language Project
People v. Mario Rolando V., 2006 WL 2831043 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.) (October 5, 2006)
(Case summary by Jessica Babine, law student )
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- Nature of the Case: This case involved sexual abuse of a child
- Facts: Sexual assaults and abuse of two adoptive daughters, beginning at ages nine and twelve, by adopted father.
- Problematic Language: "He kissed her neck and breast"
- Explanation of Problem: The description of the defendant kissing the child on particular parts of the body creates a sexual scene which diminishes the violent and criminal nature of the assault. Rape is not a sexual act, but a violent one, often based on power and control. By describing the assault in sexual terms, the writer implies that the act involved nonharmful conduct or actions that the victim might have enjoyed because sexual activity, as opposed to criminal activities, are generally mutually consensual. ( Bavaelas, Janet and Coates, Linda, "Is it Sex or Assault? Erotic Versus Violent Language in Sexual Assault Trial Judgment" Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless (10) pp. 29-40 (Nov. 2001).)
The term "breast" is inappropriate because it implies that the victim is a fully developed female rather than a nine year old child. The definition of the word "breast" is "either of the pair of mammary glands extending from the front of the chest in pubescent and adult human females and some other mammals" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/breast, November 10, 2006).
Language that implies nonharmful behavior or that children are sexually mature vitiates the focus on the defendant's violent and coercive behavior. This obscures the defendant's culpability by assigning some degree of enjoyment if not responsibility to the victim. (Bohner, G. "Writing About Rape," British Journal of Social Psychology, (40), pp. 515-529 (2001)).
- Suggested Alternatives: It would be preferable to use words that do not have underlying adult or consensual themes when describing the sexual abuse of a child. For example, instead of using language such as "he kissed her neck and breast" the court could use language such as "he forced/placed his mouth on the child's chest or undeveloped breast nipple."