We do not generally respond to criticism, but when we report on cases that most people would consider rape, we get enough questions about why we don’t call it that, we felt it was worth an explanation. Usually, we get accused of being motivated by political correctness.
But it is not a matter of political correctness; it is a matter of legal correctness. Legally, there is no such crime as rape in Canada.
That was changed in 1983. It was an amendment that was advocated for by women’s rights groups and victims’ rights groups.
The term became sexual assault and it was part of a broader suite of reforms intended to, among other things: expand the definition of sexual crimes; make it easier for prosecutors to get convictions; better reflect that sex crimes are about power, control and violence more than sex; and remove some of the moral stigma that kept victims from coming forward.
It also made sexual assault within marriage illegal. Yes, it has only been 36 years that husbands have not been effectively allowed to forcibly take advantage of their wives.
Rape is a loaded term. Historically, it has referred to only the most egregious of sexual crimes which created a very high bar for prosecutors and a roadblock for victims.
We now have an entire spectrum of crimes from sexual interference right up to aggravated sexual assault.
For media, at least responsible media, all of our editorial decisions are based on being fair, balanced and accurate.
Using a loaded term such as rape, that does not even exist in the criminal code (except to reference past editions) is not necessarily any of those things depending on the facts in evidence.
It could also imply we know more than what is present in evidence, which could get us into our own legal troubles for libel.
We must also always be wary of editorializing.
Editorializing is another function of the press, but one we identify as such and do our best to keep very separate from news reporting.
We are also restricted in what we can print by other factors, such as publication bans, which are almost always present in sexual assault cases.
We present the available facts.
Our readers are, of course, always welcome to draw their own conclusions and criticize us, but there is also always a reason, based on principles, for what we do.