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Epstein Case Highlights Language Surrounding Child Sexual Abuse

An estimated one in 10 children nationwide is sexually abused before they turn 18. (Pexels/Pixabay)
An estimated one in 10 children nationwide is sexually abused before they turn 18. (Pexels/Pixabay)
July 17, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – In the wake of sex-trafficking charges against billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, media outlets are taking some heat for how they've described the alleged victims.

Dozens of news outlets have used the term "underage women" rather than "girls" despite the fact that some were as young as 14 when the alleged crimes were committed. Roger Sherman, executive director of the Idaho Children's Trust Fund, said this does a disservice to those who were harmed, and obscures the issue of child abuse in this case.

"The language makes us take a[n] arm's length from that concern that it's about children, and you think it's about adult women," he said, "and it's not. It's about children who can't give consent, who are not ready to have that kind of conversation and who should never be exposed to any of this."

Media outlets also have received criticism for using phrases such as "sex with a minor." Sherman said this appears to convey that consent was involved, when minors can't legally give consent. He said it also minimizes the exploitative and coercive nature of the alleged crimes.

When language puts stories such as this "at arm's length," Sherman said, it can put the issue of child sexual abuse and trafficking at a distance as well. Sex trafficking is hardly a remote problem, with cases occurring in Idaho every year. To approach these issues head-on, Sherman's organization and trainers across the state use the sexual-abuse prevention and recognition program known as Stewards of Children. He said one step the program stresses is that people have to talk about this.

"This is a crime that thrives in secrecy," he said, "and the more that we're willing to talk about it, the more that we're willing to keep it in the open, then it can be communicated and it can be dealt with."

Emphasizing its prevalence, Sherman added that one in 10 children nationwide is sexually abused before age 18. He said cases such as Epstein's could help raise parents' and caregivers' awareness of the threat of child sexual abuse.

More information about Stewards of Children is online at d2l.org.

Disclosure: Idaho Children's Trust Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Early Childhood Education, Family/Father Issues, Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID