A guest post on the Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment's blog by Katie Gotch and Joan Tabachnick: Sexual Violence Perpetrators are Common Among Adolescents…or Are They? The Power of Language When Discussing Sexual Violence
A recently published study entitled The Prevalence Rates of Male and Female Sexual Violence Perpetrators in a National Sample of Adolescents (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2013) has generated quite a response from both professionals and the mainstream media. This response is not surprising as the article is one of the first investigations into the prevalence of sexual violence among adolescents who are not involved in the criminal justice system.
This research is invaluable and we applaud the researchers for investigating such a difficult topic and providing some important baseline information about national rates of sexual violence in adolescence. However, the conclusions made from the data and even the title selected for this article have been problematic and, in many ways, represent a lost important opportunity for deeper discussion about this issue.
The language used by the authors significantly impacted the message they provided and/or how it was perceived by others. If our intent is to prevent sexual violence, then our words need to be framed in a way that allows people to begin a conversation about the behaviors we are trying to stop. In our writing and our publications we need to begin to describe the behaviors that children and teens may engage in, rather than label these youth as “perpetrators.”