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Two questions were posted recently asking about the Flash TV show:

One question has been closed as a dupe of the other. Neither question is good as

  • They are both essentially "some unnamed person said this random thing, is it true?"
  • They seem to be trying to create a discussion about sex for which there is no basis.

Both questions have been downvoted (perhaps for the reasons I described).

In both cases, the title of the question was edited by another user to change the question from whether Caitlin was "raped" to whether Caitlin was "sexually assaulted". Sexual assault is not synonymous with rape (it includes other actions in addition to rape), so the edit seems to somewhat change the meaning of the question.

I suppose the edit might be justified if it removes clearly offensive language from the list of question titles. I think that both rape and sexual assault are offensive ideas and actions, so substituting one for the other doesn't really help. I don't think we need to avoid using proper terminology when discussing criminal behaviour.

I don't seek to justify these questions. I would be happy if they were a closed, but I don't think there is a close reason that covers them.

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    Related: What's our tolerance for adult content? – Rand al'Thor Jan 22 '17 at 3:41
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    This recent question from another meta, with two answers from CMs, is also very relevant. TL;DR: we shouldn't censor sexual subjects altogether, but removing unnecessarily 'shocking' words such as rape from the title is simply good manners. – Rand al'Thor Jan 22 '17 at 3:44
  • Thanks @Randal'Thor It sounds like those answers on meta.literature address my question, although I can't see them as the site is in private beta. Perhaps you could post an answer here that summarises them. – Blackwood Jan 22 '17 at 3:49
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    @Blackwood you can register for Literature through this link – Mithrandir Jan 22 '17 at 10:32
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    I don't think "rape" is a shocking word exactly. It's a precise word for a shocking act. – MissMonicaE Jan 23 '17 at 13:15
  • It could be a trigger word, so literally shocking to some folks. – Seeds Feb 2 '17 at 16:30
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Valorum's answer is correct insofar as that we shouldn't censor sexual topics altogether. We're all adults here (well, at least over 13), and we should be mature enough, as a site, to be able to handle a question about rape. If any particular person doesn't want to see such a question, they can always just not click on it or read it.

Which brings us to the issues of transparency and courtesy. For the sake of transparency, it should if possible be clear from the title that the question is about rape, so that those who are sensitive to such issues will know to avoid that question. For the sake of courtesy, the title should avoid gratuitously shocking language: it's fair to expect people who don't like the subject matter not to click on the question, but less fair to shove it in their faces whenever they browse through the question list.

In other words, the edit was perfectly appropriate and valid: replacing "rape" by "sexually assault" doesn't change the meaning of the title or reduce the information contained there, but it does reduce the probability of offending someone who happens to see the title on the question list.


Partly inspired by the answers by Robert Cartaino and Shog9 to this meta post on Literature SE. As Shog9 put it:

As you said originally, putting "rape" in the title should be easily avoidable - but more than that, unless your question is directly about events or terminology that might be upsetting to others, there's no real need to include it - so don't. Sometimes this will be difficult; sometimes it will be impossible... But with a bit of attention, it should be possible to treat them - and your readers - with a delicate touch and avoid undue discomfort.

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    I had a very hard time deciding whether to accept this answer or the very different answer from Valorum. In the end I chose this one as it specifically addresses editing the title of a question (which people will see whether they choose to click on it or not) and it was the titles that were edited in the questions I am asking about. Having read both answers, I am now of the opinion that we should be more sensitive about language that appears in the title than we are about that in the body. – Blackwood Jan 22 '17 at 14:48
  • By the way, I wasn't the one who edited the questions I was asking about, in fact until reading this answer, I considered the edits to be inappropriate. – Blackwood Jan 22 '17 at 14:49
  • @Blackwood Oops, my mistake - now fixed "your" to "the". – Rand al'Thor Jan 22 '17 at 14:50
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    I disagree. A sexual assault is dramatically different from a rape. Drunkenly kissing someone without their permission can be defined as a "sexual assault". The meaning is changed. A good example would be from the film "Hollow man". Did he sexually assault the woman he was spying on? Yes, undoubtedly. Did he rape her? Ah, that's a far more interesting question that delves deeply into the deleted scenes, original script and director's intentions. – Valorum Jan 22 '17 at 18:19
  • @Valorum I agree that the meaning of "rape" and "sexual assault" is different (and made that point in the question). However I have been persuaded that using the broader (and less "shocking") term in the title of a question may be a kindness to some users. I would not say the same about the body of the question as the use has to choose to view the question. – Blackwood Jan 22 '17 at 20:51
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    @Blackwood - Part of the privilege of editing is that you should be very careful not change the overall meaning of a question when you change the wording. I don't disagree that prurient questions should be heavily downvoted, but nor do I think we should maintain a hotlist of trigger words that scare us as a site. – Valorum Jan 22 '17 at 20:53
  • @Valorum I agree, I am saying there may be a special case where it is considerate to be a little less precise in the title of a question. After all while all sexual assault is not rape, it is true that all rape is sexual assault. – Blackwood Jan 22 '17 at 20:56
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    @Blackwood - Which leaves us with a situation where the question could be very well answered (yes, a sexual assault occurred) without actually answering the question that the OP wanted answering (did a rape occur?). And now they can't ask it again. – Valorum Jan 22 '17 at 20:59
  • @Valorum I'm suggesting that the question can be clarified in the body without including the "shocking" term in the title. That is the case in one of the two question I am asking about, but not the other. – Blackwood Jan 22 '17 at 21:01
  • @Blackwood - Well, if that's your goal you can easily remove the shocking aspect by utterly rewording the title ("What transpired between x and y?") without changing the meaning. What you're suggesting changes the meaning. If your edit came up in the edit queue I'd reject it for precisely that reason. – Valorum Jan 22 '17 at 21:13
  • @Valorum: “A sexual assault is dramatically different from a rape.” Well, some are, some aren’t — especially, I imagine, from the victim’s perspective. – Paul D. Waite Jan 26 '17 at 13:15
  • @PaulD.Waite - Well, "sexual assault" is a cover-all term that covers a multitude of offenses. Rape, on the other hand has a very specific meaning in law. – Valorum Jan 26 '17 at 13:20
  • @Valorum: it sure does (currently) — but unless the question is asking about the legal aspect of it, that doesn’t seem enormously relevant to changing meaning. (And if it is asking about that, might that not be off-topic?) – Paul D. Waite Jan 26 '17 at 15:49
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    @PaulD.Waite - The answer to the question of whether x was sexually assaulted could easily be "yes, she kissed her without asking permission". That doesn't answer what the OP asked in the first place (did a rape occur?) because you've now changed the meaning of their question. – Valorum Jan 26 '17 at 15:59
  • @Valorum: true, if the degree of sexual assault is what they’re asking about. I don’t think that was the case in the questions that prompted this meta question, at least. – Paul D. Waite Jan 26 '17 at 22:24
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Per Dopperlgreener's excellent (and highly upvoted) answer to a similar question; "Should questions about sex and other adult activities be off-topic?"

I think the Stack Exchange population is generally expected to have a decent enough level of maturity and professionalism to be able to handle adult material. We are not a community of immature people - hopefully. We're expected to be able to conduct ourselves in a civil and mature manner. We should be able to discuss and mentally handle mature topics.

If you don't like a question, downvote it. If it offends you, flag it.

Don't go around editing people's questions because you don't like certain words.


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