Social Construction of Meaning, Authority, Agency and Consent: Does Accurate Language Matter When We Discuss Sexualized Violence Against Children
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Sexualized violence against children is a topic that many in our North American society find uncomfortable to discuss freely. Alongside this very common discomfort with the topic is a general lack of dialogue. As a society, we long ago created an accepted way of discussing the topic that constrains these events to a certain light or perspective. The language of sexual interaction (which is mutual) rather than language of violent interaction (which is unilateral) is most often used when we talk about this violation of children; we talk about acts of ‘fondling’ and ‘intercourse’ with a minor. Do we believe that children are engaged in sexual relations? Sexual acts are defined as mutual and the sexual terms we use for these acts imply consent. Rape is violence that is sexualized, forced and unilateral. Accurate language that takes into consideration authentic concise definitions of terms and that accurately reflects the agency of individuals involved in an act or event will thus communicate the nuances, intentionality and relational interactions of the crime more precisely. This thesis will deal with language and meaning, how we acquire and share concepts, and how accuracy in the language of description of real world events more precisely communicates accuracy of meaning, intentionality and agency, thus forming our social construction of the meaning of the event. In general, agency, implied consent, meaning, agreed-upon definitions or terminology and thus collectively held social ‘truth’ are co-created and communicated in language. Adults impart this knowledge to children as children learn language and societal norms. Adults often look to wise authority for guidance and for their frame of reference regarding usage and meaning. In the field of sexualized violence against children, the authority would be the professionals who work within the field. The question then is: when individuals who work within the field of sexualized violence against children are introduced to the discussion of the accurate use of language that is violence-based rather than the use of language that is heavily sex-act based (i.e. language that obscures the agency of the perpetrator thus implicating the child in the act) that is not accurate for what is occurring during the sexualized violation of a child, what is the response from these professionals? This thesis will discuss how meaning is socially constructed and communicated through language and will present a discourse analysis of the narrative elicited from a survey offered to professionals who variously work in the field of sexualized violence against children, asking about accurate language use as introduced by the project “Tell it like it is!”.