The New York Times addresses a topic that feminists have been trying to illuminate for years – the use by journalists of the word ‘sex’ in descriptions of non-consensual criminal acts that more properly should be called “rape” instead, and the importance of correcting that error for our common understanding of what constitutes a crime involving rape.
Some readers, responding to The New York Times’s first reports on the case, strongly objected to wording in the articles that, in their view, either underplayed the details or wrongly applied the language of consensual sex to the narrative.
The objections focused on the most severe of the accusations against Mr. Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach. According to the grand jury report, he subjected a boy estimated to be 10 years old to “anal intercourse” in locker room showers at the university in 2002.
Jennifer Crichton, a reader from Manhattan, said The Times’s initial article on Nov. 5 missed the mark when it described the testimony of a Penn State graduate assistant about the incident. As The Times put it, he told the grand jury that he saw Mr. Sandusky “sexually assaulting a boy in the shower.”
“Why is this described as ‘sexual assault’ and not as ‘rape’ “? Ms. Crichton wrote.
The importance of course is that sex is a consensual act between two persons who have given informed consent. “When the facts warrant it, journalists should be as specific as possible, they should avoid using the language of consensual sex and, when appropriate, they should call a rape a rape.”