Victim-support groups and members of the public are urging Plain English Campaign to tackle the kind of language, as used in a recent Metropolitan Police report, that appears to be used to 'clean up' crime. Detective Chief Inspector Yexley, author of the report, claims that the term 'gang rape' is too emotive and that 'multi-perpetrator rape' is more appropriate.
Chrissie Maher OBE, founder of Plain English Campaign, says: "One of the campaign's aims is to raise awareness that public information must use words that are appropriate for the intended audience. That means using words that can be read, understood and dealt with first time round. We have worked with other police authorities that fully support this aim, so it would be good to see consistency throughout the UK.
"Any dictionary will tell you a 'gang' is a group with a common aim. So there's no doubt in anyone's mind what a 'gang rape' is. Who knows what 'multi-perpetrator' really means?
"If a piece of jargon is used to get rid of 'emotive' words in an internal report, you can be sure that when that jargon escapes to a wider audience, it's likely to create a whole lot of confusion and emotion.
"On the Home Office website, the term 'interpersonal violence' is used. This sounds to me like there's some willing participation involved, as there is with the term 'interpersonal skills'. It's all confusing management-speak."
A street survey which Plain English Campaign carried out at the weekend showed that the new terminology sounded more like a multi-purpose tool than the serious crime it referred to.
When the campaign asked DCI Yexley for the plain English translation of 'multi-perpetrator rape' he did not respond with 'gang rape'. Instead he suggested that Plain English Campaign consults the academic study the report was based on and come up with something better.
Catherine Crawford, Chief Executive of the Metropolitan Police Authority, agrees with Plain English Campaign that it would be better to avoid the general use of jargon in public information from the police.
A Metropolitan Police Service spokesperson says: "There is no desire to confuse or mislead the public on this issue. The decision to use the phrase 'multi-perpetrator rape' in this report was based on academic research that raised concerns about the perceptions of the word 'gang'. Although, as the report described, there are instances of these offences being carried out by criminal gangs, sometimes as a means of initiation, that is by no means always the case. Sometimes the perpetrators are a group of two or more people with no links to established criminal gangs and it was deemed important to make a distinction. The Metropolitan Police Service is conscious of the widespread public awareness of the term 'gang rape', but it was felt that, in this instance and for the intended audience of the report,
'multi-perpetrator rape' was a more accurate and unambiguous term for the offences in question."
Angie Conroy, Policy Officer for Rape Crisis England and Wales, says: "I do not agree with the report's claim to accuracy with the new terminology. There is a clear difference between 'gang rape' and 'multi-perpetrator rape'. We gather nationwide, statistical information on rape and would use the definition 'multi-perpetrator rape' more accurately for when a person is subjected to rape at different times by different rapists. 'Gang rape' involves more than two rapists attacking a person at the same time.
"There is no doubt that it is misleading when jargon is used to take away the true meaning of a serious crime."