I just googled “sexual misconduct allegations” and got more than 1,300,000 results.
Headlines shouted the word “misconduct”:
CBS News: “Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell Address Charlie Rose Sexual Misconduct Allegations”
The New York Times: “After Weinstein: A List of Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct and the Fallout for Each”
The Los Angeles Times: “Russell Simmons and Brett Ratner Face New Allegations of Sexual Misconduct”
Here’s the problem:
The word “misconduct.”
“Misconduct” is when a third grader punches a first grader. “Misconduct” is stealing a towel from your hotel room. “Misconduct” is going online at work to Christmas shop.
When a man forces his attentions on someone who doesn’t want them, it isn’t something as innocuous as “misconduct.”
It’s assault. Definitions:
- Actual touching or violence upon another.
- An attempt to initiate harmful or offensive contact with a person, or a threat to do so.
- An act that causes verbal or physical injury.
As long as I’m objecting to the media’s use – misuse – of language, here’s one I heard on the TV news:
“Serious sex crimes.”
As opposed to what? Funny sex crimes?
And “sex crimes” is another media misuse of language. As soon as the media introduce the word “sex” into the equation, the perpetrator’s actions are trivialized. The assault is diminished into a guy sex thing.
But the actions of these men have nothing to do with “sex,” and everything to do with violence. Definitions:
- Rough or injurious physical force, action or treatment.
- Behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage or kill someone or something.
- The use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage or destroy.
And here’s one more, from the TV news:
“Forcing her to have sex with him.”
When a man forces someone to have “sex with him” it’s not “sex” – it’s rape. Period.
This is in the same category as another one we’re hearing a lot: “non-consensual sex.” If one person is non-consensual then it’s not “sex.” It’s rape. Period.
It’s not just on-air and online media – this same language misuse appears in print, as well. On one recent day my newspaper, a major daily, carried six separate stories about accused men. Here is language from those six articles:
- Behave inappropriately
- Crude sexual advances
- Improper behavior
- Inappropriate behavior
- Inappropriately touching women
- Perpetrators of unwelcome sexual advances
- Sexual misconduct
- Sexual assault and misconduct
- Sexually harassed
- Unwanted advances
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Unwelcome sexual advances
Only once did the word “assault” appear.
The media play an important role in shaping our thoughts and language. We quote the media all the time: “On CNN I heard that…” “US Magazine says that…”
The media – and we – have to stop thinking of, and speaking of, assault in benign terms like “misconduct.”
If the media – and we – stop tiptoeing around what’s happening and call it “assault…”
If the media – and we – start telling it like it is…
Maybe, just maybe, men will stop. Or at least start thinking about stopping.
Hell – just think, period.
That would be different.