Memo to headline writers: Child sex abuse is not a 'sex scandal'

Spurred by Xeni Jardin's tweet about coverage of charges of child sexual abuse at Penn State — "A 'sex scandal' is when someone has an affair. Raping children is something else" — I looked for examples of news outlets using the phrase. A few headlines culled from Google News:

The difference between sexual abuse and a sex scandal, Audrey Ference writes at The L Magazine, is that a sex scandal involves consensual sex. "Calling rape a sex scandal," she writes, "reinforces the idea that it's equally bad to get caught messing around on your wife as it is to rape someone."

Searches for "sex abuse" have tripled since Saturday, when the grand jury indicted former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, according to Google Trends. But searches for "sex scandal" also have increased by at least the same amount. During the debate over the so-called "ground zero mosque," Poynter's Kelly McBride wrote about the role that search-engine optimization plays in headlines. || Longstanding problem: "The nomenclature surrounding 'sex crimes' is already hopelessly sterile, and the media routinely refers to cases of rape and sexual assault as 'sex scandals,' " writes Tommy Christopher. (Mediaite) || Related: Poynter Review says ESPN’s early coverage of Penn State sexual abuse scandal slow, ‘tone-deaf

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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