Judicial Language Project
Williams v. State, 2007 WL 602514 (Ind.App.) (February 28, 2007)
(Case summary by Katie Meyer, law student )
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- Nature of the Case: The defendant was convicted of child molesting as a Class B felony and sexual misconduct with a minor as a Class C felony. He appealed and the court affirmed his conviction.
- Facts: Defendant is an 18 year old adult male who was dating the victim's older sister. He was living with the victim and the older sister at the time of the abuse. The abuse occurred over a two year period and the victim was 12 years old when it started.
- Problematic Language: "Williams told her to come into his room, pulled out his penis, and told her to suck on it. N.B. complied."
- Explanation of Problem: The language, "N.B complied" is problematic because it focuses on the victim's actions and describes the child as having an active role in the defendant's crime, rather than focusing on the defendant's behavior and describing the defendant as the only individual responsible for committing a criminal act. It also implies that the victim somehow consented to the perpetrator's violence. This language shares responsibility between the criminal and the victim by making the victim an affirmative participant in the harm, rather than a recipient of the criminal's harm. This, in turn, mitigates the harmful nature of the criminal act. (Bohner, G. "Writing About Rape," British Journal of Social Psychology, (40), pp. 515-529 (2001)). Further, describing the victim as "compliant" is a form of "victim blaming" language that perpetuates the negative stereotype that victims are somehow responsible for the acts of sexual violence perpetrated against them. This is harmful for adult and child victims alike, but is especially problematic when the victim is under the age of consent because children have no capacity to participate in sexual acts. Language that implies any level of participation should always be avoided when the victim is a child.
- Suggested Alternatives: Rather than saying "the victim complied", the court should say "the defendant told the victim to 'suck on it' and then the defendant forced his penis into the victim's mouth".