Please Describe To the Jury What Happened…”Sounds Like…”

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Tory Bowen of Nebraska says that she was raped, but testifying in court is a little difficult because the judge, Jeffre Cheuvront, has instructed her that neither she nor the prosecutors can use the following words: “rape,” “sexual assault,” “victim,” assailant,” “sexual assault kit.” The words were banned at the request of defense attorneys, who also wanted the words “sex” and “intercourse” banned, but the judge did not go that far, presumably because the trial would then have been reduced to a game of charades. The jury will not be informed that the words have been banned.

This is the second time around for the accused, Pamir Safi. His first trial resulted in a hung jury when jurors deadlocked, 7-5. The banned words were in place at that trial, too.

Apparently, rape defense lawyers throughout the country are asking that the word “rape” not be used by the alleged victim and the prosecutor. This made me wonder whether anyone had asked an alleged armed robbery victim not to use the words “steal,” “rob,” and “gun.” Or whether a witness to a murder has been barred from saying “murder,” “kill,” or “dead.” I’m guessing the answer is no. Indeed, law professor Wendy Murphy of the New England School of Law says that “that is a profoundly unfair thing for a judge to do. I have a problem with the idea that you can compel a witness to contrive their testimony. I have a problem (with a judge) directing a witness, not the government, to say certain words. It impugns their candor, their credibility.”

And, Murphy added, Bowen won’t be able to explain to jurors why she’s using clinical words–or, worse, words that imply consent–when she describes the encounter with Safi.

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