One thing that drives me bonkers when I read news reports is the misuse of “alleged.” My understanding is that “alleged” should be used when referring to someone who is suspected of a crime, but has not yet been found guilty in court. So, “the alleged perpetrator,” “Mr. Jones allegedly strangled the victim,” “the company allegedly defrauded its clients,” etc.

But I often seen it used applying to criminal situations just in general. For example, I often see something like, “Mrs. Jones was brutally beaten and robbed on Friday. The alleged victim claims her assailant was wearing a green raincoat.”

But…she’s not an alleged victim. She was either beaten up and robbed or she wasn’t. And even if that’s in doubt, she’s not accused of being a victim, she’s saying she is, so there’s no need to guard against jumping to conclusions there. Being a victim is not a crime in any event; she’s not going to be found guilty or innocent of victimhood. The use of “alleged” here seems to be just there because this story is about a crime, and the reporter is confused about why and when to use the term “alleged.”

For example, you wouldn’t say, “Local child alleges she sold lemonade in the park last weekend. The alleged lemonade salesman says the weather was very nice!” It’s similar because while you might not have actual proof that she actually did sell lemonade in the park, you wouldn’t feel the need to be extra careful not to just assume she did if she said she did, because selling lemonade is not a crime (I mean, ok, sometimes it is if the park doesn’t allow vendors without a license, but now we’re getting off the point).

Similarly, I saw a report describing a robbery or something, and the episode itself was described as alleged. “The Stop ‘n Go on Fifth Street reports that a teller was held up at gun point last Friday. The alleged incident took place at 9:00 p.m.” I mean, was it or wasn’t it? That seems like something the reporter could establish. Is there some reason to fear that the Stop ‘n Go might be fabricating this incident?

But am I wrong about this? I very well might be! Are reporters meant to refer to every aspect of anything to do with any kind of criminal activity as “alleged” until the trial? If so, I feel like they don’t do it consistently.

“Alleged grandmother Rita P. Bunch alleged that an alleged man snatched her purse last Wednesday. The alleged purse snatching took place outside the Save Rite supermarket. The alleged purse snatcher allegedly wore jeans and a T-shirt and a ski mask, and the alleged victim alleged that she felt frightened. The allegedly stolen purse allegedly contained $5 and a set of dentures. Allegedly, purse snatchings are on the rise recently.”

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