People with a criminal conviction are a reflection of society’s moral condemnation of criminal behavior. Language plays an important role in ensuring our criminal legal system not only achieves justice, but that it’s also socially perceived as equitable. We need to be precise and clear in our language when discussing criminal behaviors, because every crime is saddled with labels carrying socially important meanings. Imprecise language can blur our understanding of criminal behavior and undermine the goals of criminalization.
Legislation is supposed to respond to and correct social problems, but when language is vague, sanitized, or incendiary we can’t further our understanding of these problems. Vague language often umbrellas many criminal behaviors and offenders, all of which may require different legal and medical responses to be effective. We also minimize harms or normalize behaviors when our language is too vague or sanitized. Incendiary language often elicits strong emotions, which blurs distinctions between criminal behaviors and offenders. The opposite is also true when language is too precise. We create legislative loopholes, and are then unable to effectively assign appropriate punishments. This is especially true when we discuss sex offending and its corresponding legislation.
Truth be told, there are many assumptions made about sex offenders and offending, most of which are simply untrue. The media and our politicians take facts out of context, fail to precisely discuss the problem of sex offending, and manipulate statistics in an effort to sensationalize the problem and ensure the passage of draconian legislation. Evidence-based research portrays a more realistic understanding, but it’s often relayed to us in lofty terms and concepts. The end result is we get confused and emotional about protecting against sexual victimization, which doesn’t help harmed people. Hopefully, this dictionary will help clarify any confusion you may have and serve as a guide for more rational and compassionate conclusions about people who commit sex offenses and the legislation enacted to track and monitor them.
Have a specific word or phrase in mind? Open a browser search by pressing the Ctrl (Windows users) or Cmd (Mac users) key at the same time as the F key on your keyboard and enter the search term. Alternatively, click the corresponding letter above if you know the beginning of the word or phrase.
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