Seth Abramson @SethAbramson @Newsweek columnist. Analyses @BBC. NYT bestselling author of Proof of Conspiracy (bit.ly/2kP6FkZ). Next: Citizen Journalist (Macmillan). Professor. Attorney. Jun. 22, 2019 2 min read

In my jurisdiction (and others) "sexual assault" means a misdemeanor and other terms (like "felonious sexual assault" or aggravated felonious sexual assault") mean rape. What Carroll describes is an allegation of aggravated felonious sexual assault, the gravest *rape* allegation.

1/ So The Hill has described—at least in my jurisdiction—as fondling ("sexual assault," a misdemeanor) what the story it discusses clearly establishes as a forcible rape (as opposed to what is called "statutory rape"). I really wish media knew how to report allegations like this.

2/ It's inappropriate to call Carroll's allegation an allegation of "sexual assault" unless you use an additional descriptor (e.g., there may be a jurisdiction that uses terms like "first-degree sexual assault"). Or media could look up New York law. But this is a rape allegation.

3/ Needless to say, even if the accusation had been unsolicited fondling— "sexual assault"—it'd be very grave. But the maximum penalty for "sexual assault" in my jurisdiction—to give you a sense—is 12 months in jail.

Forcible rape can bring a *prison* sentence *20 times longer*.

4/ So let's put it in simpler terms: if what Carroll says happened in the 90s had happened in the 2010s and been reported—and were he not president—Trump would be looking at the possibility of dying in prison. A very realistic possibility of dying in prison. This is that serious.

5/ Here (below) is the Fox News headline. Any headline like this is intended to mislead those who don't read full articles—80%+ of readers, as FNC knows from its metrics—into thinking Trump has "only" been accused of unsolicited fondling. In fact, he was accused of forcible rape.

6/ An even simpler way of seeing it: if this allegation is true, even if a) it happened 25 years ago, and b) Trump *never did anything else wrong in his life*, it's an action—for which he takes no responsibility—that'd preclude him from being accepted in society, let alone POTUS.

7/ Here's CNN's headline: also wrong. Carroll's allegation is very clearly (indeed unambiguously) a forcible rape allegation, not "merely" a "sexual assault" allegation. Media obviously should report it *as* an allegation, but they must *not* misclassify the *type* of allegation.

8/ Rape is of course a charged word; it's also a legal term in some jurisdictions and a known lay term to describe specific criminal statutes in other jurisdictions. It is not incendiary to describe an allegation as a "rape allegation" if the crime the allegation alleges is rape.

9/ Lest you think I'm overreacting, remember: NEW YORK MAGAZINE originally called it "rape" and then pulled back. Here's NPR calling it "sexual assault," then giving a demonstration of why bad framing leads to bad analogies and bad reporting—as NPR compares rape to misdemeanors.

10/ Imagine unambiguously accusing someone of a crime that carries *decades* in prison as a penalty, and NPR writes that your accusations are "similar" to actions that would be charged as a misdemeanor—all to avoid using the (accurate) term "rape" with respect to your allegation.


You can follow @SethAbramson.



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