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Review of  The Language of Sexual Crime

Reviewer: Kerry Linfoot
Book Title: The Language of Sexual Crime
Book Author: Janet Cotterill
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Forensic Linguistics
Issue Number: 19.2104

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EDITOR: Cotterill, Janet
TITLE: The Language of Sexual Crime
PUBLISHER: Palgrave MacMillan
YEAR: 2007

Kerry Linfoot, Department of English, United States Air Force Academy

In chapter 1, Tim Grant (a forensic linguist) and Jessica Woodhams (a forensic
psychologist) combine their extensive knowledge in these related fields to
address the issue of how linguistic analysis may contribute in the area of rape
investigations. With the aim of possibly connecting cases of sexual assault
undertaken by a single perpetrator, this chapter describes in detail how
Linguistics may add to already existing parameters and descriptors of rape as a
social activity. By assessing, augmenting and adapting categorizations of
activity type (from Levinson 1979) and utterance classifications (from Allan,
(cited in Grant and Woodhams' chapter) and Dale et al. (1997)), the authors
suggest a framework under which investigation of possible serial crimes may be
undertaken. Initial testing of their methodology (using data from pre-existing
studies and the authors' own data on consensual 'one night stand' events) showed
a high level of both validity and reliability. The authors claim that they have
created a usable structure for classifying rapists' utterances during the
progressive phases of a sexual assault, and they aim to apply this forensic tool
to rape cases in order to aid in the classification of serial occurrences and
the identification of offenders, as well as assisting in the understanding of
''the nature of rape and its context within the wider society'' (13).

The second chapter, by well-known Applied Linguist Susan Berk-Seligson, gives a
nice close discourse analysis of some of the complex strategies used in a series
of police-suspect interviews. The case discussed is that of a Mexican man who
was accused of the attempted rape and murder of a young woman in the
San-Francisco area. Berk-Seligson does not, in this paper, address the fact that
the defendant was a monolingual Spanish speaker and was interviewed by a
deficient Spanish interpreter with regard to the event. She does, however,
reference aspects of the miscommunications as they pertain to her present focus
– the reversal of the attempted rape conviction at a later appeal. By analyzing
responses to police questions by the accused at two separate interrogation
sessions, Berk-Seligson shows the process by which a confession to the murder
was obtained, but that the suspect never released his resistance to the charge
of attempted rape. This chapter shows a wonderful break-down of the strategies
utilized by law enforcement officers to obtain confessions, and also describes
verbal tactics that suspects may use to either mitigate offences or to resist
further charges.

Chapter three of the text is provided by Kelly Benneworth, and concludes with
the following sentence: ''If discourse analysis can identify ethical ways of
encouraging a guilty paedophile to confess, it has a great deal to offer the
study of police interviewing in general'' (58). The investigation provided in the
text leading up to this statement certainly does an excellent job of supporting
this argument. Through discourse analysis of a series of conversational
transactions between a suspected paedophile and the interviewing officer,
Benneworth shows how an 'open' interrogation style (cf. Milne and Bull, 1999)
allows for the requirements of both parties. The offender needs to preserve both
his innocence and his ideas of the interaction (i.e. the notion of the
'relationship' with a child as a progressive friendship and the mutual wish for
physical/sexual activity), whilst the officer is required to obtain sufficient
detail about the offences that took place, to ascertain the guilt, and acquire
the confession to a crime from the suspect. This chapter provides an interesting
step into a vague and hereto forth uncharted area of the intersection of police
interviewing and Forensic Linguistics.

The topic of chapter four is the interviewing of child witnesses for the
prosecution in sexual abuse cases. Michelle Aldridge, an experienced researcher
in this area (cf. Aldridge and Wood, 1998) assesses and analyzes victim
interviews at the police information-gathering stage of the investigation and
then compares this to strategies utilized in courtroom cross-examination by
lawyers for the defense. By addressing each of the four stages of the interview
in isolation (rapport building, offering the chance to give a free narrative
account, asking specific questions, and providing closure), Aldridge clearly
shows through both quantitative and qualitative illustrations that huge
differences exist in the two questioning arenas. While it is apparent that the
creation and implementation of interviewing guidelines (e.g. the 1992
'Memorandum of Good Practice on Video Recorded Interviews for Child Witnesses
for Criminal Proceedings') has improved the strategies employed by police
officers in questioning young victims, Aldridge's data plainly demonstrates that
the tactics of defense lawyers undermine, and at times negate, such advances.
Her research calls for judges to take a more active role in monitoring the
permissible forms of questions, and the process of cross-examining vulnerable
witnesses as a whole.

Peter Tiersma, the author of chapter five, has extensive experience in both
criminal court proceedings and language analysis, and this is beautifully
demonstrated in his contribution to this anthology. Tiersma conducts a thorough
investigation into the nature of 'consent' in rape cases, giving a methodical
and complete legal treatment of the word and its consequences that is accessible
to those outside the law profession. By highlighting the importance of 'consent'
in rape trials, Tiersma argues that, despite recent efforts to the contrary, it
is impossible to eliminate this consideration from courtroom proceedings.
Instead, he offers a new legal definition of rape that incorporates scenarios in
which the victim may be intimidated (for any number of reasons) into giving
'involuntary consent' to the act. His reasoning allows this new formulation to
account for many instances of date/acquaintance rape that are currently not
endowed with the 'seriousness' of prototypical rape cases, and shifts the focus
of the court examination away from the alleged victim and back onto the
defendant where, Tiersma argues, it should logically reside. This contribution
offers important perspectives on the nature of rape, the legal considerations
that entangle rape trials at this point in history, and the part that
linguistics may play in improvements to such laws.
Chapter six follows closely on the heels of Tiersma's work as Diane Ponterotto
discusses the nature of 'complicity vs. coercion' in rape trials. Through an
informative, technical discourse analysis, Ponterotto uncovers an
institutionalised 'discursive trap' that victims are led into during
cross-examination. Despite relying on the transcript of a staged
cross-examination used in the training of lawyers, the author does a fine job of
highlighting conversational strategies that are deemed typical of such
interactions. Her examples show how victims are refused the opportunity to fully
contribute to the 'conversation' taking place with the defense lawyer and that
they are, instead, led through a predictable series of questioning tactics that
undermine their own version of events and introduce serious doubts about
credibility into the minds of jurors. Ponterotto leans heavily on long
block-quotes from her sources, some of which could be simply referenced and
summarized into support for her work. She has important observations to impart
that are more than capable of standing on their own. She ends extremely strongly
with a call for institutional and social investigation into the sexual
discrimination that feeds the 'discursive trap', and highlights some of the ways
in which Forensic Linguistics may be instrumental in augmenting this change.

Susan Ehrlich, the contributor of chapter seven, is an experienced researcher in
the field of courtroom discourse (cf. Ehrlich 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002). Often she
works with how victims' accounts are misunderstood or misrepresented through
lawyer interpretation, i.e. the 'dual-authored texts' that eventually become
testimony. In this contribution, however, she moves to the civil court where the
agency of providing an account is supposedly returned to the witness. Through
her analysis, however, Ehrlich demonstrates how the normative discursive
practices of a hegemonic society continue to restrict the victims' speech. As
such, violent rapes (sexual assault involving a weapon and serious physical
damage, stereotypically resulting from a stranger attacking a woman) are much
more infrequent than acquaintance rape, but reserve the sole right to be seen as
'rape'. In the case studied, therefore, the victim represents her abuse at the
hands of her father in the same way as 'typical' sexual interaction, e.g. ''We
had sex'' (Ehrlich, 2007:133) as the resources to describe her experience as
'abuse', 'assault', or (most importantly) 'rape' are not available to the
victims of acquaintance rape. Whilst many researchers advocate allowing rape
victims freedom to provide an uninterrupted narrative account of their
experiences, Ehrlich shows that this may not be sufficient. Given the prevailing
discourse climate, lawyers and solicitors may still be required to interpret and
specify the victims' experiences as 'rape'.

Chapter eight offers a complimenting perspective on the courtroom process by
examining the roles of practitioners in the trial process. Leung and Gibbons
analyze interactions in sexual assault cases in the Cantonese/English-speaking
courtrooms of Hong Kong and discuss the personal treatment of the witnesses and
victims, the particular nature and effects of the bilingual circumstances, and
how prevailing attitudes held by key personnel in the legal process may directly
impact the proceedings. In the first of two cases discussed Leung and Gibbons
show how the judge may intervene to protect vulnerable witnesses, but also how
these interventions are constrained by the adversarial process. In the second
case, the authors demonstrate how the prejudice of an interpreter imposes itself
on the translation process and, ultimately, affects the witness and her
testimony – with no intervention from the judge. The conclusion, and an
important one at that, is that reform which allows judges to intervene directly
should be implemented immediately. This is required to protect vulnerable
witnesses from cross-examination, but also from the possible malpractice of
court-appointed interpreters.

Continuing the international theme of investigation, Bryna Bogoch introduces her
research in the Israeli courts in chapter nine of the anthology. Her analysis
brings to light the notion of 'otherness' as pertaining to victims of sexual
assault, as opposed to being attributed to convicted criminals which is more
frequently seen in this type of social research. By studying the phenomenon of
overturned convictions, Bogoch reveals that the judges in the two cases studied
(who never had contact with the victim or defendant, but perform their judgments
based solely on written accounts of the case) justify their decisions by
creating an image of the victim as 'other' (i.e. unusual in some way, sexually
active or inquisitive, promiscuous, etc.), as opposed to the defendants who are
pictured as 'normal'. As such, ''the Supreme Court judges imply that the judges
of the first instance had been 'taken in' by the victim, and had not
sufficiently considered the inconsistencies in her tale'' (165), or the nature of
her character which is thoroughly expounded in the decisions. [Unfortunately,
despite an excellent descriptive account of the ''double standard of content''
(cf. Russ, 1983) afforded to victims and their testimony, Bogoch does not offer
any suggestions for change, possibly because, given the nature of the cases,
none exists. It can be hoped that these observations will lead, however, to
further inquiry.]

Moving on to Canada, MacMartin and Wood offer an overview and criticism of the
legal treatment of sexual crime in their country, and also discuss the research
on these procedures. Providing a thorough literature survey, given the limited
length for their article, the authors focus primarily on Coates and Wade (2004)
as the subject for their criticism. The issue is, they claim, that researchers
such as these too broadly represent the legal process and discount important
variations within judicial decisions. The danger lies in reliance on a
quantitative approach that is overly critical of judges' classifications of
sexual crimes, but that employs dangerous terms and definitions itself. In this
way, MacMartin and Wood state that current research fails to account for the
root causes of sexual violence against women and children, and may even feed
into the patriarchal society in which such crimes may be propagated. [While the
structure of this chapter is at times repetitious, the case studies too
fleetingly mentioned, and the overall point occasionally unclear, there are
points of brilliance that occur throughout the paper (one example being the
distinction offered on page 193 between 'violence' and 'violation').]

''The low conviction rate of rapes should give pause for thought'' Annabelle
Mooney states in the introductory section of chapter eleven (199). She goes on
to reveal the fact that barely more than 5% of reported sexual offences result
in a guilty verdict. This certainly implies that changes need to be made, and
one attempt at improvement is the topic of her study. In 2002, Scottish law
changed the categorization of sexual assaults on women that were asleep or
unconscious from 'clandestine injuries' to actual rape. Unfortunately, as
Mooney's analysis shows, little in the way of media coverage and the resulting
public opinion has altered. By employing a Critical Discourse Analysis framework
and examining newspaper articles from before, during, and after this change, the
author shows that the language employed continues to feed the opinion that women
are required to give an 'active' refusal of sexual contact in order for rape to
occur. In addition, the articles maintained patriarchal notions of consensual
sex as an invasive and violent action, that women are less entitled to the label
of 'victim' if they have been drinking, and that men are – conversely – still
offered excuses for loss of control and judgment if they have partaken of
alcohol. It is clear from her work that these changes are only a first, and
minor, step to real changes in this area.

In the final chapter of the volume, Anne O'Keefe and Michael J. Breen present a
corpus-based analysis of the language of sexual abuse reporting in newspaper
reporting. Specifying their focus to the area of 'stance' (the inclusion of
emotive or evaluative words or phrases in reporting), the authors provide a
detailed and approachable discussion on the differing treatment of institutional
and domestic child abuse cases. Their results clearly demonstrate that domestic
cases (typically father-son abuse) are much less likely to display examples of
stance than institutional ones (in this instance, cases originating from schools
operated by the 'Christian Brothers' in Ireland). They conclude that there is a
collective revulsion towards institutionalized child abuse cases, making them an
''easier target…while family private sphere abuse is yesterday's court case''
(235). While this style of linguistic analysis is typically quite alien to those
outside the immediate field of Corpus Linguistics, the authors are conscious of
possible confusion in their readers, and they provide clear, step-by-step
details of their study that allows even the most inexperienced reader to follow
the statistics and calculations effortlessly. Given the bulk of text used for
the analysis in this chapter, and the evident capacity for further volume, the
inclusion of this chapter will suggest methodological frameworks for many
working in the field of Forensic Linguistics, as well as providing relevant and
impressive results of its own.

This book is intended for anyone interested in the intersection of language and
the law. It covers legal language, treatment of victims and suspects,
interviewing techniques and strategies, and the representation of (sexual) crime
by the media. As such, the papers included provide a range of tried and tested
research methodologies and techniques, but also cover a great deal of new
ground. There has been little research that focuses specifically on the language
of crime in general, and this may be the only volume that is dedicated to the
furtherance of study in the field of sexual crime specifically.

Whilst the volume may at first seem to be a little daunting for novice students
of linguistics or non-academics, there are a great number of very approachable
contributions. As such, the book should not be dismissed as being overly
esoteric or inappropriately scholarly. Practical application of linguistic
theory is a primary aim of the field of Forensic Linguistics, and this text
makes great strides towards that goal. As such, the book would be a valuable
addition to the library of students of linguistics, police officers (especially
those specializing in crimes against women or children), criminal lawyers and
solicitors, public policy makers, journalists, and any member of the judicial

As with any collected volume of work, there is a degree of variance in the
quality of submissions. In this case, however, the range is simply from
excellent to superb. Novices in the field are presented alongside veterans from
the Forensic Linguistic circuit, and they keep up with the expectations of
rigid, thorough, and professional scholarship that has become the standard in
this area of study. Janet Cotterill has certainly selected and assembled an
impressive collection of work that will contribute to advances in the research
of criminal acts, and specifically sexual crime, for many years to come.

Aldridge, M. and Wood, J. (1998) _Interviewing Children: A Guide for Child Care
and Forensic Practitioners_. Chichester: Wiley.

Coates, L. and Wade, A. (2004) ''Telling it Like it Isn't: Obscuring Perpetrator
Responsibility for Violent Crime''. _Discourse & Society_, 15:5, 499-526.

Dale, A., Davies, A. and Wei, L. (1997) ''Developing a Typology of Rapists'
Speech''. _Journal of Pragmatics_, 25:4, 431-447.

Ehrlich, S. (1998) ''The Discursive Reconstruction of Sexual Consent.'' _Discourse
& Society_ 9:1, 149-171.

Ehrlich, S. (1999) ''Communities of Practice, Gender and the Representation of
Sexual Assault.'' _Language in Society_ 28:2, 239-256.

Ehrlich, S. (2001) _Representing Rape: Language and Sexual Consent_. New York:

Ehrlich, S. (2002) ''(Re)Contextualizing Complainants' Accounts of Sexual
Assault.'' _Forensic Linguistics_ 9:2, 193-212.

Levinson, S. C. (1979) ''Activity Types and Language''. _Linguistics_, 17:5/6,

Milne, R. and Bull, R. (1999) _Investigative Interviewing: Psychology and
Practice_. Chichester: Wiley.

Russ, J. (1983) _How to Suppress Women's Writing_. Austin: University of Texas

Dr. Kerry Linfoot teaches officer-cadets at the United States Air Force Academy
in Colorado. She works on the interaction between citizens and law enforcement
officers, police interviewing techniques, and predicting resistance to authority.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 023000170X
ISBN-13: 9780230001701
Pages: 264
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