Assault and Accusation Without Agents: Verb Voice in Media Narratives of Campus Sexual Assault

Keywords: Agency, sexual assault, grammar, mixed methods


Previous studies of sexual assault have analyzed the connection between the narrative of events surrounding sexual assault allegations and the agency of the narrative’s characters, especially the assailant and the accuser. To contribute to this growing literature, we conducted a mixed methods word-level content analysis, testing whether the voice of verbs associated with the actions of the assailant and the accuser indicated an absence of agency. This study found that verbs associated with assailants were primarily written in passive voice and verbs associated with accusers were primarily written in active voice in both campus and non-campus sexual assault news reports. Implications for the research and practice of mass media reporting of sexual assault are discussed.


Author Biographies

Rachael Graham Lussos, George Mason University
PhD Student, Writing and Rhetoric, English Department
Lourdes Fernandez, George Mason University
PhD Candidate, Writing and Rhetoric, English Department