Eliminating Disparaging Labels

  Gail’s Gateway
  Change for Registrants & Families


Disparage (dih-spar-ij)

Verb (used with object), dis-par-aged, dis-par-ag-ing

To speak of or treat slightingly; depreciate; belittle;

To bring reproach or discredit upon; lower the estimation of;

For many years, degrading terms have been used to label and describe anyone convicted of a sexual offense.  These offenses can run the gamut from something as simple as urinating in public to the most heinous crime of rape/sexual abuse of an adult or a child.  The spectrum of these crimes extends far and wide, yet the term “sexual offender” is given to each and everyone, regardless of the severity of the crime.

The part of our brain referred to as the “reptilian brain” is partly responsible for the wide acceptance of these derogatory terms.  The reptilian brain governs actions that become almost robotic in nature, such as reaching out to automatically shake someone’s hand or nodding “yes” or “no” to someone in reply to their question.  These are actions that are so ingrained in our thinking that they are performed without giving them a second thought.  They’re performed because, well they just always have been.  They’ve become second nature in our society.

The same can be said for labeling people with these disparaging terms.  They’ve become so commonplace that nobody thinks twice about using them.  Nobody gives a thought to the fact that they are belittling and give the impression of being less valued than others.  It’s time to do away with these labels and make a conscious effort to eliminate them from our everyday vocabulary.

When somebody hears the term “sexual offender”, it immediately conjures up images of violent predators that lurk around schools and parks waiting to snatch children and perform unspeakable acts against them.  The fact is, there is not a “one size fits all” description of an offender.  They are not all violent – most are first time offenders with no criminal history.  Offenders that are labeled in this way will have to live with these labels the rest of their lives unless we, as a society, pledge to educate the public using person-first language.

Labels become self-fulfilling prophecies.  When a person carries around a derogatory label, they begin to believe that is what they truly are.  For example, if a person is constantly told they are worthless or a lesser member of society, over time they begin to believe it themselves.  That kind of thinking only interferes with the successful reintegration back into society.  If successful reintegration is our common goal, then these disparaging labels MUST be abolished.

The following is an article written by Gwenda M. Willis entitled “Why Call Someone by What We Don’t Want Them to Be”?  The Ethics of Labeling in Forensic/Correctional psychology.  She covers this topic in an excellent manner –

I encourage everyone to read the article and share it with others.  Her conclusion brings up some very valid points –

“The use of stigmatizing and pejorative labels to refer to people who have (sexually) offended has become normalized by academics and other professionals, politicians, and the media.  The argument to stop using labels is not to minimize the harm these people have inflicted on others.  Rather, that harm is the very reason underpinning the author’s argument to stop using labels, which is also advocated by the governing style guide in the social and behavioral sciences (American Psychological Association, 2010b) and across professional codes of ethics.  Continued use of stigmatizing, pejorative labels risks obstructing desistance processes, ostracizing our clients and widening the gap between them and conventional society.  If we want our clients to be a part of conventional society and live by the rules that govern conventional society, they must first be accepted into conventional society as fellow men, women, young people, brothers, partners, students, mechanics, sports enthusiasts and the like. Making lasting behavioral changes presents challenges for everyone, and such challenges are magnified when other people believe failure is more likely than success. Whether intentional or not, labeling persons who have sexually offended by what they have done communicates the expectation they will do so again.  We all have a choice.  We can continue to model stigmatizing and pejorative language that politicians and the media will no doubt take one step further, or we can start changing the way we talk about the men, women and young people we work with and research, in the hope that they too will change”.

Women Against Registry has begun a moratorium against the use of these disparaging terms during the calendar year 2021.  It all starts with education.  Any chance we get, it is our obligation to educate, educate and educate some more on how harmful and unfair these labels are and how they can be a precursor for future success or failure.  We need to make sure we all work together to shut down these labels any chance we get.  The fight for change begins now!!  Some things to ponder . . .

  • What terms do you feel should be used in place of, you know, “those words” when referring to people convicted of sexually related offenses?
  • What are some ways we can begin to educate the public on how damaging and belittling these labels can be?

Please share your thoughts.

Vicki Henry

Retired after 25 years with the telephone company in St. Louis Missouri. Began as a cord-board operator (yes like Edith Ann) and retired as a 2nd line manager at headquarters. after choosing not to transfer to Dallas. Worked in the student loan industry for 5 years and then Lowe's for just short of five years. Began this journey in 2009 when I found the Daily Strength - Families of Sex Offenders group then went on to become a part of the communications group at RSOL and in 2011 when it was determined at their annual conference that there was interest in beginning a women's advocacy group I accepted the position of President of Women Against Registry. We are now a nationwide all-volunteer non-profit with members in all 50 states.

One thought on “Eliminating Disparaging Labels

  • I am currently using the term #RegisteredCitizen on the WARofFlorida twitter account. As what people read affects their reaction I have reviewed the WARofFlorida website and will review it again soon to edit any terms needed,

    One way to educate the public is to educate the source which has an influence over the public..the media.


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