In light of recent events in the States, there were controversial discussions about the use of the word "rape" and "sexual assault". I know for a fact that "rapist" is the correct term to describe one who performed the act of rape but for the latter term, is "sexual assaulter" a correct English term? For me, it just sounds weird. I was thinking that maybe "sexual assailant" is the proper term given that both "assault" and "assail" comes from a common Latin root word assilire but I am not sure.

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    It's not incorrect, but assailant would be preferred. – Hot Licks Jun 8 '16 at 11:41
  • I don't disagree with you but when you wrote "preferred", to whom is it preferred? I asked a foreign friend and he said assailant sounded more strange. – Syafiq Kamarul Azman Jun 8 '16 at 12:28
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    To a native US English speaker assailant would sound more natural. – Hot Licks Jun 8 '16 at 12:57
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    Assailant would sound more natural to a native British English speaker. – TrevorD Jun 8 '16 at 13:11
  • Related: Assailant vs attacker. – Tim Lymington Jun 9 '16 at 9:14

Both assaulter and assailant are correct and are synonyms (see http://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/assailant).

However, assailant is much more widely used:

Google NGrams screenshot, assaulter vs assailant

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Lists of synonyms for assailant from various dictionaries:

attacker, assaulter, bushwhacker — Merriam-Webster (US)

attacker, mugger, assaulter, attack dog — Oxford Dictionary Online - American English

attacker, mugger, rare assaulter — Oxford Dictionary Online - British & World English

attacker, invader, opponent, adversary, enemy, mugger, aggressor, assailer, assaulter, abuser, reviler — Chambers (UK)

This tends to support the answer from @HerbCaudill that assaulter and assailant are both correct and are synonyms. It also suggests that assaulter is more rare in British English than in American English.

As an aside, it also suggests that there are some American alternatives not used in the UK:

  • bushwhacker is a term I'm aware of, but I thought it just referred to someone who spent a lot of time in 'the bush'
  • attack dog is a term I assumed just referred to a dog!
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  • 1
    "Attack dog" is often applied to a hired thug. – Hot Licks Jun 10 '16 at 12:01

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