Judicial Language Project
Corbitt v. State, 2009 WL 3720586 (November 9, 2009)
(Case summary by Jennifer Smith, law student)
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- Nature of the Case: Incest, rape, and child molestation
- Facts: The perpetrator raped his granddaughter and also touched her breasts, and touched the breast and inserted his fingers into the vagina of his other granddaughter.
- Problematic Language: intercourse, kissed breast
- Explanation of Problem: The terms “intercourse” and “kissed” are problematic for a variety of reasons. They are inappropriate because they over sexualize a crime that was committed against the victim. Using this language makes the encounter seem as though it were mutual, consensual, or even pleasurable, rather than a unilateral act of violence against the victim. See Janet Bavelas and Linda Coates, Is it Sex or Assault? Erotic Versus Violent Language in Sexual Assault Trial Judgments, Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless (2001), 30-32. Using this sexualized language diminishes the victim's experience of the assault and hides the fact that the acts themselves are crimes. Id. at 38-39.
- Suggested Alternatives: Instead of describing it as intercourse, the court could have said that the perpetrator forcibly penetrated the victim, or inserted his penis into her vagina. Rather than saying that the perpetrator “kissed” the breast of the victim, the court could describe that he put his mouth on the victim’s breast.