Judicial Language Project
In re Commitment of Goodwin, 2006 WL 3027124 (Tex. App., 2006) (October 26, 2006)
(Case summary by Adisty Wilson, law student )
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- Nature of the Case: Defendant appealed from a trial court's decision defining him as a Sexually Violent Predator based on the Texas Statute
- Facts: Defendant is an adult male, victims were 14-year old boys.
- Problematic Language: "having anal sex with one fourteen-year-old boy and oral sex with another"
- Explanation of Problem: Explaining the incidents of abuse as "having anal sex...and oral sex" implies that the victim child participated in those acts because "having" is commonly defined as "partaking of" which conveys a sense of participation rather than forced. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/perform, November 10, 2006). By using a phrase that implies the child acted willingly, the court is suggesting that the victim was somehow consenting to the abuse, thus distancing the defendant from his criminal actions. This not only makes the defendant's actions seem less harmful, it has the added harm of shifting the focus away from the perpetrator onto the victim and inflicting blame on the victim. (McMillen, Curtis. "Attributions of blame and responsibility for child sexual abuse and adult adjustment." Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Vol 12 (1), 1997).
"Anal sex and oral sex" are inappropriate phrases for the sexual abuse of a child because they are highly erotic terms, associated with scenes of consensual sex and pleasure, not incidents of abuse. The defendant's abuse of child victims is not an erotic act, but a violent one. A child does not perform anything on anyone, nor is anything performed upon him or her. (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).
The language used by the court does not reflect the seriousness of the defendant's actions and takes the focus away from his criminal wrongdoings.
- Suggested Alternatives: Instead of using "having anal sex", the act should be described as "the defendant put his penis in the child victim's rectum," which explicitly describes the act. Instead of using "having oral sex" the proper phrase should be "the defendant put his penis into the child's mouth" or "the defendant put the child's penis into his mouth."