According to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” When it comes to preventing sexual abuse, this is certainly true, as words form the basis for our understanding of the issue. There have been many takes on terminology and many are simply lame attempts at shifting the Overton window.
The biggest issues in child sexual abuse prevention are terms that intentionally dehumanize and lead the reader to strong emotion rather than rational thinking around effectiveness. These terms, while effective at evoking protective feelings, are also effective at distracting the public from having vitally important conversations.
These conversations are difficult to have. Sometimes the most difficult conversations we can have are the most productive. When we avoid having these difficult conversations, we can deny the truth that is right in front of us.
Terms to Avoid
People who abused
While it might feel good to reduce people who harm children into predators, or describe how you see their behavior, it also distracts from the realities of how most sexual harm occurs. According to RAINN, 93% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts, someone they care about. If the first person you think of as someone who harms children is a creepy guy in a trench coat, are you going to consider that the nice female babysitter you like could be abusing your son? Probably not.
There is no profile for someone who sexually harms a child, and many are juveniles themselves, and two-thirds of those who harm have no attraction to children, and therefore cannot be called pedophiles. We cannot know the facts if we are using terminology that spreads myths.
Child Sexual Exploitation Material
Child sexual abuse material
Sexual abuse images
Sexual abuse material
Harmful Sexual Imagery or Illegal Images of Children
Exploitation is a wide term. What you may not know is that the organizations who created the term child sexual exploitation material intended to blur the line between fictional depictions of children and real children who were sexually harmed in order to produce those images or videos (see here, page 35-40). The distinction between real children and fictional children is a necessary one because we must protect real children from harm – not fictional children.
Many people who were sexually harmed choose to advocate and call themselves a survivor for a reason. At the same time, many were permanently affected by the trauma. People who have been sexually harmed can be any age or gender, and by using neutral and humanizing terms, we can recognize the nuances of who is affected by sexual violence.
Pedophilia is the sexual attraction to children who have not reached puberty. By confusing this attraction with the sexual harm to children, we minimize that harm and simultaneously demonize people who may have nothing to do with that harm. It is best to use accurate and direct language to describe sexual harm.
And in case it really needs to be said, to infer to a victim/survivor that they were “diddled” or “fucked” instead of sexually abused is minimizing, gross, and honestly rapey. So avoid that.