It's not groping or fondling – it is sexual assault
By Laura Bates
Using euphemistic language downplays the severity of an offence and enforces a dangerous message: it isn’t a big deal, and victims won’t be taken seriously
Numerous high-profile cases of sexual violence and abuse have have been exposed in recent years, with the same words cropping up again and again: “groping”, “fondling”, “inappropriate touching”. What each of these terms usually means is sexual assault. But both in casual conversation and in the press, we will go to almost any lengths to avoid saying it.
According to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the elements of the offence of sexual assault are:
- A person (A) intentionally touches another person (B)
- the touching is sexual
- (B) does not consent to the touching, and (A) does not reasonably believe that (B) consents.
The Crown Prosecution Service guidelines further clarify that “touching is widely defined and includes with any part of the body, or with anything else, and can be through clothing”. The definition is clear.
Sometimes, the reason behind a reluctance to use accurate language is more compassionate than malicious – an attempt to avoid the reality of what happens to girls and women on a regular basis. It is easier to rely on euphemistic language, such as “groping” or “fondling”, than to talk about sexual assault. But that doesn’t help, because we inadvertently end up downgrading the severity of the offence, which, in turn, helps normalise it.
Undermining sexual violen...