coverage in The Washington Post about a swim coach’s longtime sexual
relationship with an underage swimmer sparked discussion among journalists about
using the adjective "alleged" to describe victims.
position: If there is any doubt as to whether a crime was committed, it is
inaccurate to declare the person is a victim.
“I want to call on all journalists
and news organizations to stop using the term ‘alleged victim,’ especially in
stories about sexual abuse (almost the only type of stories where it appears). It’s
a blame-the-victim term we should banish forever from the journalism lexicon.
“You want to know why? Here’s the
second definition of “alleged” at
Dictionary.com: doubtful; suspect; supposed
“And here’s a fact about victims of
sexual abuse: Their stories are almost always credible. So, in most cases, alleged
victim is not only insensitive, but inaccurate.
“(The first definition for alleged, “declared
or stated to be as described; asserted,” is accurate, but if people could read
a second definition as the meaning, we should look for a more accurate word.)
“I’ll grant that we need to listen
to lawyers and avoid identifying a victim prematurely. But we
also should avoid casting doubt on victims of crimes (and nearly all turn out
to be true victims; even in cases where the defendant gets off, that’s often
because of the difficulty of meeting the high reasonable-doubt burden, not
because the person wasn’t a true victim).”
Buttry suggests the alternative word “accuser”
when referring to an alleged victim.
I have tons of respect for Buttry,
journalist who does not take ethical issues likely. We in the media do not want
to discourage victims from reporting a crime for fear of their identity
becoming public. But I’m with @Baltimoresun journalist Michael Gold, who Tweeted
rhetorically @migold: “You don't think "accuser" has a more negative connotation than
I do. We’re
reaching for words, when the right one exists. “Alleged victim” does the trick
of making clear that someone says a crime has been committed against them, but
that claim has yet to be corroborated. Accuser does sound negative. And it doesn’t
work when the perpetrator — or alleged perpetrator — is unknown.
It is regrettable
that the terminology casts doubt on the veracity of the claim. But I’m not
convinced we should drop “alleged” in describing the victim based on the
reality that most claims are true. Some turn out to be false. We should err on
the side of accuracy.
with that now in Saratoga Springs, with the victim of an assault. There is no
question that the woman was assaulted. But was she raped, as she initially
reported? That has not been determined. It is accurate to write that the woman
reported she was raped. That makes her an alleged rape victim.
a bit different with people accused of crime. Someone charged with rape is an accused
rapist, not a rapist, unless or until the defendant pleads guilty or is
convicted. While the case is pending, the defendant can be described as an
accused rapist or alleged rapist, though the word “alleged” does not protect a
news company from liability for erroneously accusing someone of a crime.
the case of victims, using “alleged” isn’t a matter of liability. It’s about
striving to choose words that report the situation correctly, fairly, and with