Judicial Language Project
Plummer v. State, 966 So.2d 186 (Miss.App.) (July 31, 2007)
(Case summary by Adisty Wilson, law student )
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- Nature of the Case: Plummer was indicted by a Clarke County grand jury for feloniously raping a female child under the age of fourteen, which resulted in pregnancy and the birth of a child.
- Facts: Defendant is an adult male, victim is under the age of 14.
- Problematic Language: "engaging in sexual intercourse with a female child"
- Explanation of Problem: The verb "engaging" conveys a sense of participation from both parties, rather than a nonconsensual act of violence towards a child. Merriam-Webster defines "engage" as "to induce to participate or take part." (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/engage, November 10, 2006). This implies that the child was an active participant in the assault, rather than an unwilling recipient of the violent acts of another. By using a phrase that implies the child was a participant, the court suggests that the victim was somehow consenting to the abuse. This distances the defendant from responsibility his criminal actions. Defendant's exclusive legal responsibility is mitigated assigns some degree of responsibility to the victim. (Bohner, G. "Writing About Rape," British Journal of Social Psychology, (40), pp. 515-529, (2001)). This can inflict additional harm on the victim by implying some degree of blame. (McMillen, Curtis. "Attributions of blame and responsibility for child sexual abuse and adult adjustment." Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Vol 12 (1), 1997). In addition, the phrase "sexual intercourse" is problematic because it suggests sexual, pleasurable activity rather than criminal abuse. (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)).
- Suggested Alternatives: Instead of saying they "engaged" in certain conduct, the court should use terms that describe only the defendant as the aggressor and affirmative participant in the crime. Also, instead of using "sexual intercourse", the action should be described as a forced act of penile/vaginal penetration.