One little thing in the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombers this week has irritated me: the use of the word “unharmed” in stories about the man whom the bombers carjacked, forced to withdraw money from an ATM and then released. Reporters write again and again that he was “unharmed.”
I know what they mean. He wasn’t physically injured. But surely he was harmed. Imagine the terror you would feel if you were kidnapped by men who you had every reason to believe were unrepentant killers. Your life was in imminent danger. Criminal law recognizes this when it defines “assault” not as physically touching someone — that’s “battery” — but as putting them in fear. That’s “harm.” This man will surely never forget the moments of terror when he thought he might very well be murdered.
Here’s a suggestion. Instead of writing that a released hostage was “unharmed,” let’s put it more accurately and saying he wasn’t “physically injured.” For he certainly was “harmed.”