'She was raped'
Generations of english teachers have admonished us to avoid the
passive voice when we write. Sentences in the passive voice (the ball was
thrown) seem weaker and less commanding than their active equivalents (he
threw the ball).
Now a team of UCLA researchers has uncovered a chink in the passive
voice our teachers never imagined. Verb voice, it turns out, affects how
harshly we judge certain criminals.
Nancy Henley, Ph.D., and colleagues gave readers mock newspaper
articles that reported a crime (murder, rape, battery, or robbery) in
either active or passive voice. Then they measured attitudes toward
This was no mere academic exercise. In an earlier study Henley
found that newspaper articles use violent verbs like murder and rape in
the passive voice more often than they do more tranquil words like much
The results might give writers pause next time they start to type a
passive verb. When men read rape and battery stories written in the
passive voice, they attributed less blame to the perpetrator--and less
harm to the victim--than for the active-voice versions. The effect was
specific to sexual violence: verb voice did not alter how men viewed
murders or robberies.
Females are less swayed by verb type. And Henley isn't sure why.
Earlier studies suggest that they are more attuned to gender-related
language; they are more likely to interpret the generic pronoun "he" to
mean "he or she".
Why does verb voice influence how we view sexual crimes? Probably
because passive-voice sentences don't mention the attacker. As a result,
says Henley, readers "ignore the perpetrator and blame the victim," a
tendency exacerbated by some folks' misguided belief that a woman who is
raped was somehow "asking for it."
PHOTO: Man in jail