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Use The Power Of Language To Convey The Truth With Wendy Murphy

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

After witnessing horrific, systemic discrimination against child abuse and sex crime victims as a prosecutor, Wendy Murphy opened a pro bono service to help such victims get the justice they deserve. With over fifteen years as a professor of violent sex crime law, Wendy Murphy is a leading expert on the flaws in our system of justice and the needed corrections required to ensure our legal system lives up to our ideals. Dr. Phil and Ms. Murphy discuss the need to celebrate those who report crimes, not tear them down, the power of language to convey the truth, and the need to overcome the “post-truth” world we live in where what words really mean is up for debate. Listen to her fascinating insights into the real American legal system and the real work we need to do as a country to make things right.


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People don’t know what feminism means. I ask my students: Do you see yourself as a feminist? Some of them, their hands go up. Some it's a half a hand and they're confused because they're not sure what it means. There is a definition and then there's a cultural misunderstanding of the definition. Feminism simply means that you believe in women's social-political and economic equality. That's it. And when you explain it like that everybody says, 'Oh well, and I'm a feminist' - Wendy Murphy, JD

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RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, y in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

About Wendy J. Murphy, JD

New England Law|Boston Adjunct Professor of Sexual Violence and Law Reform; Co-Director, Women's and Children's Advocacy Project

Areas of Expertise

  • Children's Rights

  • Victims' Rights

For more than fifteen years, Wendy Murphy has served as adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law|Boston, where she also co- directs the Women's and Children's Advocacy Project under the Center for Law and Social Responsibility. A Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School from 2002-03, Wendy also served as the Mary Joe Frug Assistant Professor of Law at New England Law|Boston from 2001-2002. Wendy prosecuted child abuse and sex crimes cases for several years, during which time she observed systematic discrimination and injustices against victimized women and children which, in 1992, led her to form the first legal organization in the nation to provide pro bono legal services to victims of violence involved in the criminal justice system.

Wendy is an impact litigator whose work in state and federal courts has changed the law to better protect the constitutional and civil rights of abused women and children. Wendy writes and lectures widely on the constitutional and civil rights of women and children, and criminal justice policy. She is also a columnist for the Boston Herald.

Wendy has published numerous scholarly articles including a landmark piece explaining the legal relationship between sexual assault on campus and Title IX. Dubbed the “Goddaughter of Title IX” by the “Godmother of Title IX,” Dr. Bernice Sandler, Wendy’s impact litigation in the area of campus sexual assault, beginning in the early 1990s, includes groundbreaking victories against Harvard College in 2002, and Harvard Law School and Princeton University in 2010, which cases led to widespread awareness and reforms, and produced the well-known April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter.

Wendy is a popular and bold speaker on the lecture circuit who describes herself as “fiercely non-partisan.” Wendy is also a well-known television legal analyst who Emmy Award-winning journalist Emily Rooney calls the “best talker” on television with a “finger on the pulse of victims’ and women’s rights.” Wendy has worked for NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News. She regularly provides legal analysis for network and cable news programs. Her first book, “And Justice For Some,” was published by Penguin/Sentinel in 2007, and re-released in paperback in 2013.

Under the Women's and Children's Advocacy Project, Wendy runs the Judicial Language Project, which uses sociolinguistic research to critique the language used in law and society to describe violence against women and children. "For example, we regularly send letters to appellate courts and media asking them to refrain from describing rape as 'sex'or 'intercourse' and to use active voice when talking about what happened - such as 'he raped the victim' rather than 'the victim was raped.' We also critique vague language, such as 'molest' or 'sexual assault' as these phrases tell the reader nothing about what actually happened, and could be construed to mean a minor pat on the butt - even if the incident was a more serious act of violent penetration."

Selected Publications

Impact Litigation and Amicus Briefs

Wendy has filed numerous amicus and direct briefs in state and federal court, and with federal agencies, on many topics, including:

  • Autonomy theory in rape law; repeal of the “Fresh Complaint" doctrine; reform of rape shield statutes; jury selection and jury instructions to prevent gender-bias in rape trials;

  • “Prior false complaint” evidence; drug and alcohol-facilitated sexual assault; constitutional privacy rights in mental health and medical treatment files; women’s civil rights;

  • Military rape trials; admissibility of “grooming” evidence in child sex abuse cases;

  • Standing doctrine as applied to victims of violence in criminal cases; due process and equal protection for third-parties in criminal trials;

  • The scientific reliability of traumatic and recovered memories; “Parental Alienation” evidence and biases against protective mothers in family court;

  • The constitutional rights of children as victims in child abuse trials; the withdrawal of consent in rape law; parental rights when rape causes the birth of a child;

  • The rights of disabled crime victims to re