"Sexual assault" in news reports

Ever noticed that the word rape is never used in crime reports in the newspaper? It’s always something like “The victim was abducted behind the hedge and **sexually assaulted. ** The suspect is described as a so-and-so, wearing a such-and-such…”

By this choice of phrase, you can’t tell if it was successful rape or only attempted rape. Or what. There could be any number of different acts all under the general rubric of “sexual assault.” Why do they leave it ambiguous? News is worded so uniformly this way, it’s evident that journalists must have some rule governing their choice of words. Just wondering why they decided to use a circumlocution instead of stating what really happened.

It’s an excellent choice – because it minimizes embarrassment to the victim. Somebody tried to force sex on her (or him), but did they succeed? The paper ain’t telling. And it might be observed that normal penis-in-vagina sex is only one possible forcible act, and the term leaves nebulous what specific act was being attempted.

Note too that the victim may have been cooperative but underage and that it could be referring to a statutory sex crime rather than a forcible one.

Finally, states are peculiar in what they name their crimes – the same offense can be grand larceny, grand theft auto, felonious conversion of a motor vehicle, and a fair number of other fun terms. It’s entirely possible that your state has a felony named sexual assault that is the crime being charged – it would be the useful term if you consolidated forcible rape and sodomy into one major criminal offense.