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So, what is Slander?

Here is a nitty gritty run down.

                 Slander—the very word itself sounds like an insult of sorts. It sounds like the type of bar-room word that should not be heard by minors. Often people use the term so loosely that you might think it is just that. The reality is that slander is a tightly defined and highly regulated legal word. Slander has a definition that is not subject to its social usage, where people so often throw it around without concern for its technical definition. This is common for legal words, of course, because not everyone is a lawyer. If everyone was, no one would ever need lawyers. However, this does not change the fact that slander is codified into law and in order to have committed slander one must have actually broken the law.

                So what is slander? The simple answer is that it is oral defamation. This means it need not occur in print. Slander involves at least three parties—the slanderer, the defamed, and the audience. The slanderer is the person who has committed the crime. The defamed is the person who has been wronged. The audience is the person or group of people who hear the slanderous statement and in whose minds the damage to reputation has been done. Slander necessarily involves the communication to the audience of an untruth about another individual which is intended to damage the reputation of another. Slander is a civil wrong, which means it falls under the auspices of tort law. Slander is resolved through injunctions and compensation is delivered by way of lawsuits.

                If you believe you have been slandered, the first step to take would be to stop and think analytically, rather than emotionally. An emotional response might make you feel better, but it will likely escalate, rather than resolve, the issue. Instead, slander should be met with a strictly legal response—contact your lawyer. If the statement or statements meet the standard of being slanderous, then they will be able to advise you on the correct course of action after that, which will almost certainly include an injunction and compensatory aims in a lawsuit.

                It is difficult to prove malicious intent when it comes to slander, so damages are often limited. Many people think that since radio or television is composed of oral statements that this means any untrue and damaging statements qualify as slander. Actually they qualify as defamation and are treated as statements “in print”, since their audience is large and there is quantifiable proof of the statements and their reach. This makes slander a far more insidious way to be wronged because it is very difficult to prove in a court of law. This means individuals can often get away with slander without having to compensate the defamed at all.

                While the modern legal application of the term slander is relatively recent, the word itself dates back to the period of 1250-1300 A.D. That is 750 years, give or take a few. The word was derived from the Late Latin word “scalandum”, which meant, “a cause of offense, snare”. Of course, the concept is not one invented or first popularized by either the English or the Romans. Rather, it dates back to time immemorial. People have never wanted damaging untruths to be spread about them. One can find references in the Christian Bible to individuals who spread untruths about others in an effort to damage their reputation. Certainly this was an issue even before recorded history, but there are references to the concept in 130A.D. in the codified Praetorian Edicts, which were a crucial part of the laws of the Roman Empire at the time. There have been laws in the United States regarding slander since even before the American Revolution (http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/zenger/zengeraccount.html).

                Unfortunately court cases do not often turn out to be the panacea that most people think they are. Between 1992 and August of 2004, according to this article (http://www.osce.org/fom/41958, page 172), only forty-one criminal defamation cases were brought to court in the United States of America. Only six of the defendants in those cases were defended, which illustrates just how difficult it is to make the charges stick. From 1965 until 2004, only fourteen cases' defendants were convicted. Only nine of those defendants served jail-time, with the average stay being only 173 days. Others were fined, put on probation, given community service, or simply forced to write a letter of apology to the defamed. So even if the individual is convicted of the crime they are charged with, it is unlikely the punishment will really be proportional to their crime.

                There are a variety of defenses that are viable when facing slander charges in the courtroom. One of the most obvious is proving that the statement was made in good faith, with a reasonable belief that the statements were true. The defendant's status can also determine how liable they are for their actions. The average person just have to have a reasonable expectation that what they are saying is the truth, while newspapers and journalists are expected to have multiple sources confirming their stories before they repeat them. Naturally, trying to identify the statement as an opinion rather than fact is also a successful defense. Additionally, a vulgar insult that is not meant to be taken seriously is a legitimate defense against a slander charge too. Other defenses that have been used include: commenting on a matter of public interest, innocent knowledge of dissemination of the information, and a statue of limitations.

                So many people have trouble separating slander from libel and discerning exactly what constitutes slanderous statements. Furthermore, they are unsure of how to proceed after they have been slandered and what to expect from the proceedings. Any discussion of a slander court case should involve research first and foremost.