Language Guide

language guide

Careful use of language in the media will give a more accurate reflection of the reality of the nature of VAWG, and this can positively affect people's attitudes.

“It is not about dictating how a story should be written but recognising that too often language is still being used to trivialise and sensationalise – when it can have the power to help change attitudes in society.”

- Judith Duffy, Assistant Producer STV; Chief Reporter at Sunday Herald

Name the Crime

Instead of: 'sex', 'sex scandal', 'sex case', 'affair', 'fondle' or 'caress' to describe sexual violence

Use: 'sexual abuse', 'sexual assault', 'sexual harassment'

Why: Using phrases like sex scandal makes it sound consensual: it both minimises and sensationalises the crime. Use language that accurately conveys the gravity of sexual assault.


Instead of: 'Non-consensual sex', 'sex act', 'assault', 'sex with minor'

Use: 'Rape', 'sexual assault', 'child sexual abuse'

Why: Using phrases like this when writing about rape makes it seem less severe than it is.


Instead of: 'Revenge Porn'

Use: Image-based sexual abuse

Why: Revenge porn suggests that the victim-survivor has done something wrong.

Instead of: 'Domestic violence'

Use: 'Domestic abuse', 'men’s violence against women'

Why: The term domestic abuse conveys a much wider spectrum of abuse, which can be emotional, economic, psychological and/or physical.


Instead of: 'Abusive relationship'

Use: 'Abusive partner', 'Woman living with an abusive partner'

Why: Placing blame on the relationship or relationship dynamics, rather than on the abuser, suggests that both people are equally at fault.


Instead of: 'A domestic/domestic dispute'

Use: 'Domestic Abuse'

Why: Domestic/domestic dispute frames the incident of violence as a private domestic or family problem and not a crime.

Instead of: 'Child sex charges'

Use: 'rape', 'sexual assault', 'child sexual abuse'

Why: This language fails to recognise that children cannot consent to sex.

Instead of: 'child porn'

Use: 'child sexual abuse material', 'images of child sexual abuse'

Why: Children cannot consent to sexual exploitation.

picture of language guide table for naming the crime. Text on webpage.

Name the perpetrator

Instead of: 'Fiend', 'sex-beast', 'pervert', 'monster', 'paedo', 'brute', 'criminal', 'thug', 'wife-beater', 'woman-basher', 'vile predator'

Use: 'Man', 'perpetrator', 'offender', 'abuser', 'rapist', 'husband', 'father', 'son', etc

Why: Men who rape, commit sexual violence or domestic abuse are ordinary men, usually someone’s dad, brother, uncle, or friend. Presenting them as ‘monsters’ ignores the wider context of VAWG and perpetuates myths of who the perpetrators are.

Instead of: 'Great father', 'devoted dad', 'a good guy', 'respected member of the community', 'esteemed coach', 'professional', 'community leader', 'medical student', etc

Use: 'Man', 'perpetrator', 'offender', 'abuser', 'rapist', 'husband', 'father', 'son', etc

Why: These generate sympathy for the perpetrator (sometimes called himpathy) and are often followed by a reason for a perpetrator’s action. There is no justification for violence against women

Image of language guide table for naming the perpetrator. Text in web post.

Court Reporting

Instead of: 'Perpetrator'

Use: 'Alleged perpetrator'

Why: Unless found guilty, any perpetrator must be referenced as an alleged perpetrator to avoid creating a bias against those testifying for the prosecution.

Instead of: 'accused/accuser'

Use: 'accused and witness', 'accused and complainer', 'accused and complainant

Why: Terms accused/accuser can portray the accused as the victim and the witness as the aggressor.

Table of the language guide to court reporting. Text in webpost.

Name the Victim-Survivor

Instead of: Prostitute, sex worker, porn actress/porn star

Use: 'woman who sells sex,' 'woman involved in pornography/ prostitution'

Why: Prostitution and pornography are exploitative of women and the language used should reflect this. It is not work and using ‘prostitute’ or ‘porn actress’’ suggests a job title.

Instead of: 'Murdered/dead prostitute'

Use: 'Woman who was murdered'

Why: Regardless of their involvement in commercial sexual exploitation, women who are murdered are women first.

Instead of: 'Underage women', 'women on the younger side', 'underage girls', 'child prostitute', 'teenage prostitute', 'schoolgirl lover', 'underage girl', 'underage lover'

Use: 'abused child'

Why: Sexual contact with a child is always abuse. Using these terms rather than ‘children’ presents the issues as one of sexual morality whilst implying that consent was possible.

Instead of: 'In a relationship with', 'had sex with', 'was dating', 'having a fling with', 'Illicit or illegal affair with a girl'

Use: 'Perpetrator sexually abused child/girl'

Why: An adult cannot be in a relationship with a child. Any sexual contact with a child is abuse.

Instead of: 'Tranny', 'she-male'

Use: 'Woman', 'wife', 'partner', 'person'

Why: All women need the support of an unbiased media that does not contribute to harmful stereotypes. You should mention a person’s gender identity only if it is relevant to the story, e.g. raising awareness of violence against trans women.

image of language guide table for naming the victim-survivor. Text in post

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Related downloads

Media Guidelines on Violence Against Women and Girls for BroadcastMedia Guidelines on Violence Against Women and Girls for Broadcast Media Guidelines on reporting on men's violence against women and girls for broadcast journalism.