Sexual abuse means what?

This December 5 report from the Times of India (“Sodomized, boy attempts to kill himself“) is a perfect example of the media not being sure of how to describe sexual abuse. This single column story describes what happened to the boy as sodomy (only in the headline), sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (“They used to take him to the school bathroom to sexually abuse him…”). The problem with using the last three phrases interchangeably is that they all lose their meaning. In assuming they all mean the same thing, we have ensured they mean nothing. Sodomy is the closest thing we have to a description of what actually happened to the child. Unless we use the exact words describing what exactly happened to a child being sexually abused, we will never adequately express the horror and trauma of child sexual abuse.

A report that appeared on December 4, 2012 in The New Indian Express has a similar problem. In “3 hostel workers axed for torturing girls“, the phrase used is “torture. However, in this case, the report goes on to explain that the children were “tortured” by being asked to “remove their dresses”.


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