Judicial Language Project
In re Civil Commitment of Kirckof, 2006 WL 3007995 (Minn.App.) (October 24, 2006)
(Case summary by Katie Meyer, law student )
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- Nature of the Case: Child Sexual Abuse.
- Facts: The court found Jeffrey Kim to be a sexual psychopathic personality and had him civilly committed. Mr. Kim appealed the decision. The following language comes from the court's description of his sexual crimes starting in 1981.
- Problematic Language: "...approached a 13-year-old girl at a shopping center and touched her buttocks and squeezed the inside of her thigh twice"
"...grabbing his ex-wife's 12-year-old niece from behind, wrapping his arms around her, and then sliding his right hand across her left breast over her clothing."
- Explanation of Problem: The language, "squeezed the inside of her thigh" conveys a ticklish or playful act. It suggests that the act involved is nonharmful conduct that the victim might have enjoyed because nothing in the language implies pain or displeasure. (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)). Describing the acts in terms ordinarily used for pleasure and avoiding descriptions of the violence makes it difficult for the reader to conceptualize the conduct as unwanted, much less criminal, harm. It would be more appropriate for the court to avoid minimizing the seriousness of the violence.
The court uses similarly nonharmful language when describing how the perpetrator was "wrapping his arms around her, sliding his right hand across her left breast." This conveys an image of behavior that seems affectionate and gentle which obscures the defendant's culpability for criminal sexual conduct against a child. (Bohner, G. "Writing About Rape," British Journal of Social Psychology, (40), pp. 515-529 (2001)). Words should adequately convey the seriousness of the underlying violence of child sexual abuse. (Bavelas, J. and Coates, L. "Is it Sex or Sexual Assault? Erotic Language Versus Violent Language in Sexual Assault Trial Judgments," Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, (12)(1), pp. 29-39 (2001).
- Suggested Alternatives: In the future, the Court should refrain from using any words that have underlying themes of gentleness, playfulness and sensuality when describing the sexual abuse of a child, because this creates a nonharmful scene that diminishes from the violent and criminal nature of child sex abuse. The Court should keep the explanation as clinical as possible. Instead of using "...touched her butt and squeezed the inside of her thigh twice" the court could use "...the defendant forced his hand on the victim's buttocks and pinched her inner thigh twice." Instead of saying "wrapping his arms around her, and then sliding his right hand across her left breast over her clothing." the court should say: "the defendant forced his arms around the victim and then imposed his hand onto the victim's left breast over her clothing."