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Exploring the "Justice Gap" & the Language of Sexual Violence; Critical Conversations & Analysis for Advocates

August 27, 2012 - 9:00am to 4:00pm

For perpetrators, sexual assault is often a low risk-high reward crime. Rapists expect to get away with their crimes and victims expect that they will not be believed when they come forward. Too often, they are right. Many of the rape law reforms from the 1970s have not produced their intended effects. While reporting rates have continued to rise, conviction rates have remained relatively static, resulting in an increasing “justice gap” for sexual assault victims. Why is this? Why, after spending millions of dollars on hiring and educating law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, victim advocates and medical providers, are we still seeing this “justice gap”?

Part of the problem is society’s persistent belief in well-entrenched stereotypes and myths about sexual assault. Yet those of us who work in this field often struggle with the best way to answer tough questions about such issues as false reports or statistics.

In addition, the language we use to discuss sexual violence helps shape how we respond to it. When we discuss sexual assault, we constantly use the language of consensual sex to describe assaultive acts. We use euphemisms, erotic or affectionate terms to portray violent acts. This language often implies consent and romance, rather than criminal acts. In addition, we describe violence against women in passive terms, which allow the perpetrators of this violence to remain invisible and unaccountable. We also use language that objectifies or blames sexual assault victims. In another disturbing trend, certain judges are restricting the words that victims and prosecutors can use to describe the crime at issue.

In this highly interactive program, we will address these complex issues in depth. During the morning, we will focus on the “justice gap”—its causes and how we can work toward closing this gap. Participants will also learn some strategies for answering the hard questions about sexual assault to help combat the pervasive myths and stereotypes. During the afternoon session, we will explore the language of sexual assault: how we talk about and write about this crime. We will discuss specific examples of the language we use and explore how to discuss sexual assault in a way that more accurately depicts the crime. Participants will learn to recognize troublesome language. They will also practice re-writing passages of text from existing media articles, police reports or court cases.


Learning Objectives

  1. Participants will be able to identify instances where the language of consensual sex is used to describe assaultive acts, when the passive voice is used to allow perpetrators to remain invisible and unaccountable, and when objectifying or blaming language used to describe sexual assault victims.
  2. Participants will practice re-writing documents such as existing police reports, judicial opinions, and media articles to make the language more effectively represent the assaultive act depicted.
  3. Participants will be able to identify specific reasons why sexual assault is a “crime like no other” and why there is an increasing “justice gap” for sexual assault victims who come forward and will be provided with specific recommendations for challenging the “justice gap.”
  4. Participants will identify key legal problems within their own communities and develop their own strategies about how they can work within their own communities to combat the “justice gap.”


Presented by Claudia Bayliff

Claudia J. Bayliff is an attorney and educator with twenty-four years of experience working on issues related to sexual assault. She is currently serving as the National Judicial Education Program’s (NJEP) Project Attorney, developing judicial educational materials and educating judges about sexual assault. She was the first Chief of the United States Air Force’s worldwide, $18 million+ Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program. She has also consulted with the Department of the Navy, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Army to help them develop their sexual assault prevention and investigation strategies. Ms. Bayliff served as the Assistant Director of the Boulder County Rape Crisis Team. She also taught classes on women and the law at the University of Colorado in Boulder and Denver. In addition, she presents at conferences and professional organizations throughout the United States, Canada and Europe about violence against women and women’s relationship to the legal system.


Please see the Training Logistics page for complete details. 

Reviewed: August 6th, 2012