In case of sex abuse, it is wrong to attach word ‘alleged’ to victims

I think that it is improper to call a 5-year-old victim an “accuser” in a story about John Burbine (“Accused in sex abuse case faces more charges,” Metro, May 1). The accuser is the state, and the child is but a witness for the prosecution. The word “accuser” also wrongly connotes that the child, rather than the government, bears the burden of proof.

The story also wrongly uses the phrase “alleged victim.” The allegations are against Burbine, which means the language should state that the child is a victim of alleged crimes. Using the word “alleged” to modify the word “victim” wrongly attaches skepticism to the word of the child.


While it may be appropriate to use language that properly conveys Burbine’s status as charged but not yet convicted, those words should attach to the state because the criminal justice system is not the sole arbiter of truth.

Whatever happens to the charges in a court of law, these young people have a right to declare themselves ACTUAL, not “alleged,” victims in the real world.

Wendy Murphy


The writer is director of the Center for Law and Social Responsibility’s Judicial Language Project at New England Law.

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