Friday, September 4, 2020

Changing the Language


You may have noticed that there has begun to be significant pushback against the traditional reporting language known as a “police-involved shooting”. Police are the only people who are somehow able to shoot people in the passive voice. It seems to suggest to the reader that it wasn’t a bad shooting because police were involved.

There is a very big difference between:

Police-involved shooting in Elkridge.

State Trooper shoots motorist during traffic stop

I’ve noticed that the Baltimore Sun papers are evolving in how they report these incidents. It showed in their coverage of the shooting I wrote about yesterday. Other media outlets used the formulaic “police-involved” language. There’s no good reason to continue this buffer of language around police shootings. It perpetuates an assumption that use of a deadly weapon is automatically acceptable if a police officer is holding the gun. 

The victim, no matter who they are or what they have done, is not any less wounded or dead if shot by a police officer.

Another bit of language that needs to be retired jumped out at me yesterday in a report of sexual abuse of a high school student in Howard County. It was clear from the responses on social media that I’m not the only person who objected to the words used by the Howard County Police Department, who stated that the abuser:

...was arrested for engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a female student.

“Inappropriate relationship.” I would have thought we had gotten beyond that wording and that concept.

There can never be any kind of relationship in cases of sexual abuse because the victim is by definition unable to give full consent. A teacher who preys on an underage student is an abuser, period. What transpires can only be called abuse. Use of the term relationship, even if modified with the word inappropriate, suggests some form of consent.

Not only is this inaccurate it is damaging to the victim.

I wonder what kind of sexual abuse training is used by the HCPD? Is it current? Does everyone receive this training, including public information employees?

Both of the examples I offer today are places where using the precise words to convey the facts contributes greatly to the community’s understanding of what actually occurred. We can do better, and we absolutely should do better. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.