Judicial Language Project
State v. Ray, 135 Wash.App. 1009, (Wash.App. Div. 2) (January 1, 2006)
(Case summary by katie Meyer, law student )
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- Nature of the Case: George Ray was convicted of second and third degree rape.
- Facts: The defendant is the father of the victim. The victim was 12-years-old at the time the sexual abuse started. The defendant raped and sexually abused the victim for four years.
- Problematic Language: "Ray pulled off her clothes, held her hands above her head, and started "fingering" her"
- Explanation of Problem: Language such as "Ray pulled off her clothes, held her hands above her head, and started 'fingering' her" is both inappropriately colloquial and extremely erotic. The word "fingering" is understood in culture as a slang term for stimulation of a woman's genitals with the fingers. This type of language not only implies the victim was a willing participant but also that the conduct was sexually enjoyable rather than violent and criminal behavior. This also obscures the defendant's culpability by suggesting his actions were motivated by sexual rather than criminal intentions. (Bohner, G. "Writing About Rape," British Journal of Social Psychology, (40), pp. 515-529 (2001)); "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 extent to which an offender is held socially responsible for his actions is partially dependent on the extent to which his actions are correctly conveyed as criminal harm by judges and the legal system. Consequently, erotic language should be avoided as it can mask both the seriousness of the harm and the deliberate nature of the perpetrator's actions. (Coates, L. "Telling it like it isn't: obscuring perpetrator responsibility for violent crime." Discourse and Society, (502), pp. 499-526 (2004).
- Suggested Alternatives: Instead of "fingering her", the court should say "the defendant used his finger to penetrate the victim's vagina (or sexual organ)".