NPR listeners were upset about the language used in reporting on Jeffrey Epstein and R. Kelly, NPR public editor Elizabeth Jensen reported.
For the Epstein case, Jensen said some listeners wanted to know why NPR didn’t use the word “rape”. Jensen explained that’s because Epstein wasn’t charged with rape and NPR is using the terms that prosecutors use. For the R. Kelly case, listeners were upset NPR use the phrase “underage women” to refer to his alleged victims. In that complaint, Jensen agreed the phrase was a poor choice.
“Using the phrase ‘underage women,’ on the other hand, does not add clarity; in fact, it does the opposite,” Jensen wrote. NPR declined to comment to iMediaEthics.
Citing a memo from NPR standards editor Mark Memmott, Jensen reported that NPR guidelines say victims under 18 should be called girls and boys, not women and men. NPR staffers shouldn’t use the phrases underaged men or underaged women, and should check about age of consent laws state-by-state.
Memmmott’s July 12 staff memo reads in part:
“When accusers or alleged victims are under 18, do not refer to them as ‘women’ or ‘men.’ The words that apply are ‘girls,’ ‘boys’ and ‘minors’ (which helps in cases when we’re not sure of the gender). Phrases such as ‘underaged girls,’ while somewhat redundant, can help to reinforce the nature of the alleged crimes. But do not say ‘underaged women’ or ‘underaged men.’ Note: Be careful because laws about who is ‘underage’ vary by state. Also, when someone is accused of assaulting both minors and adults, be sure to use phrases such as ‘women and girls’ or ‘men and boys.'”