“Misconduct”: the euphemism in the shadow of #MoiAussi

Photo: Claude Paris, Associated Press
In terms of sexual assault, the right words are important to describe the different forms of assault to the integrity of women’s bodies.

Committing sexual assault is not ” misbehave “, it is a criminal act. In the wake of the movement of denunciation #MoiAussi, several invite you to name specifically the sexual violence.

If “feminism” was elected word of the year 2017 by the dictionary american Merriam-Webster, the term “sexual misconduct” could easily win a prize lemon, if one believes Suzanne Zaccour and Sandrine Ricci. The word is defined by several dictionaries as ” bad conduct “, or even “gaps” and ” wantonness “.


“”Misconduct” is a term that is part of the euphémisation of sexual violence, ” says Ms. Ricci, a sociologist and a lecturer at the UQAM.


“When one is in the process of realizing the magnitude of sexual violence, it is as if he was reassuring to say, “misconduct”, see the assault as problems of behavior rather than as crimes “, says Ms Zaccour, author, feminist and student in the master in law at Cambridge.


The use of the term seems to be widespread, appearing in the titles of the media in quebec (written press, television or radio) about 800 times, according to the database Eureka.


It is difficult though to know precisely what it refers to, if it is that it takes in a broad sense to include all alleged acts in the same press article.


“It is true that we tend to use it for this reason. But the perverse effect is that it wants to include everything and can imply that the person has committed the actions with the most serious, which are criminal, or the less serious, that are not necessarily “, note as to him, Pierre Trudel, a professor at the Centre de recherche en droit public (CRDP) of the Université de Montréal.


“In the media, often to describe the sexual assault, we will try to award another term to” claim “. We then take an additional precaution by saying misconduct, even when it is fully in line with the definition of sexual assault “, note to his tower Julie Laforest.


Clear categories


The criteria for the naming of sexual violence, however, are clearly established by law, as evidenced by a guide from the national Institute of public health of Quebec (INSPQ), which Ms. Laforest has worked.


What is wrongly called the “eccentricities” may in fact be or not to offences of a sexual nature under the criminal Code of canada. The allegations reported in the media this fall included the action indecent, the exhibitionism and sexual assault, simple (level 1), which includes ” any contact of a sexual nature laid without the consent of the person “.


In terms of precision, “misconduct” is also described in this guide : “The fact that a health care professional, for the duration of the professional relationship established with the person to whom it provides services, to abuse this relationship to have with it sexual relations” and other sexual actions.

While we are in the process of realizing the magnitude of sexual violence, it is as if he was reassuring to say, “misconduct”, see the assault as problems of behavior rather than as crimes
Suzanne Zaccour, author, feminist and a student in the master of laws at Cambridge

“It does not refer to a criminal offence, but rather to a code of ethics “, summarizes the scientific advisor at the INSPQ. The kit is however of 2012, and the term has taken on a certain boom with the denunciations of crimes of sexual violence in the canadian armed Forces, she believes.


“The media exert a decisive influence on the perceptions and attitudes of the population in terms of sexual assault,” says the toolkit. The interest for this online guide is also directly proportional to the denunciations publicized, she notes, to the point where the attendance line has doubled this fall.


The general recommendation to journalists to Julie Laforest, therefore, is to use ” a vocabulary of the most accurate as possible without minimizing the facts.”


The Toronto-based organization Femifesto holds similar remarks in his own guide, in addition to providing advice on the right way to address women who have experienced sexual violence.


“We should reserve the term “sexual misconduct” to inappropriate comments, to profanity, but who are not recurring, because again it would be harassment, ” she concludes.


Culture of rape


This gymnastics media to avoid libel lawsuits and to respect the presumption of innocence would she be so vain ?


“The media are cautious, certainly, sometimes maybe a little too much, replied Pierre Trudel. It is true that we are in a universe where these charges have not been reviewed by a judge, but this caution should not go up to reduce claims. “


In other areas, where a court has not yet ruled, the journalists tend to use the words “alleged” or ” alleged “. When a person is suspected of having committed a murder or a shoplifting, you would rarely see in a headline ” Murderer, accused of assault and suspected thief “, we just more often of the “alleged murderer “or” accused of murder “.


In the case of sexual violence, “is that we need to repeat the word “alleged” every two or three sentences ? Not, ” says Suzanne Zaccour, who is also a lawyer.


The media should present both the facts of the most serious and the least serious in a title ? “No,” she says again. This is a view shared by Mr. Trudel, for which it is sufficient to contextualize adequately the comments, stating that these are allegations that have not yet been brought to the attention of a court or reviewed by the latter.


“But beware of excess at the opposite which is to think that, since we cannot make the evidence in a court, or that it has not yet been made, the facts have not existed “, adds Mr. Trudel.


“This way of saying reminds us that, in fact, it’s hard to believe the victim. It captures precisely the idea that ” it’s not that bad “, a problem that cuts across the whole field of violence against women, ” adds Mrs. Zaccour.


This is not bad faith that we use these euphemisms, but “because we have a tendency to spread without question, because we heard them,” says the sociologist Sandrine Ricci. The repetition of the discourse surrounding emanates as well from the culture of rape and participates at the same time, the use of euphemisms bringing us ” to fight more politely, that the term “violence”, ” she said.


“The trivialization desensitizes people, it ensures that the people who commit violence do not have the impression of ” the commission, ” said Ms. Ricci. Thus it is that “misconduct” can remain detached in the imagination of sexual violence, understood as the stereotype of a rape committed by a stranger at the bottom of an alley, a stereotype for which there is no ambiguity.


However, sexual violence is part of a ” continuum “, expliqueMme Ricci. And appoint more precisely allows to recognize the various forms, a step prior to termination, and that respects even better the letter and the spirit of the laws.

Ce text is part of our “Outlook” section.

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