From true threat to trigger warnings: A primer on forensic assessment of speech

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The First Amendment protects freedom of speech as an essential right of Americans. It has long been established that a “true threat” is not afforded protection because the law recognizes that a verbal threat can cause harm, even if the threat is never carried out. The last decade has seen an expansion of formal and informal claims of emotional harm due to verbal statements and the content of college curricula. A new lexicon has developed describing and attempting to regulate verbal content that some people claim cause emotional harm, including “microag-gression,” “trigger,” “trigger warning,” and “safe spaces.” A culture of vindictive protectiveness characterized by heightened vigilance on speech and retaliatory litigiousness is discussed in this article. We also discuss forensic assessments of emotional harm from speech claims as we highlight the ever-present tension between our desire for safety and civil liberties in this evolving area of forensic practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-432
Number of pages6
JournalPsychiatric Annals
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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