Harassment Language

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The tidal wave of sexual abuse accusations has left many debating not only the particulars but the language used to talk about it. Monique Hosein has this Perspective on why language matters.

I recently heard a reference to Thomas Jefferson having “an affair – if you could call it that – with Sally Hemmings.” Well no, you cannot call it that. A fourteen-year-old girl considered the property of Thomas Jefferson could not in any way consent to an “affair.” No enslaved person could.

The language we use to talk about sexual violence is important. I will not be adding harrowing personal accounts to make these points, but some of this language has really agitated me.

First. Non-consensual sex: That is not sex. The “alleged perpetrator” or “accused” and their lawyer and all the documents can use it. There is no need to repeat it. Non-consensual sex is sexual assault and in some cases the law may call it rape.

Second. Roy Moore is known to have “dated teenagers.” A full-fledged adult cannot “date” teenagers. He can commit statutory rape, an abuse of power. When an adult man wields far greater power than a teen girl, that power differential does not allow for any meaningful consent by the youth he abuses.


Third: There are no sex scandals when one party cannot consent. That’s sexual violence. A sex scandal is the revelation of a consensual sexual relationship deemed inappropriate for social reasons and harms the reputation of one or more participants. John Edwards had a sex scandal. Louis CK abused his power and his fellow comedians. Those with significantly less power than the abuser cannot be party to a sex scandal.

Harvey Weinstein referred to “the times” in which his behavior was OK. It was not. In those “times” behavior like his was tolerated and the privileged perpetrators protected. In these times, by his own words, an admitted sexual predator occupies the White House. Nevertheless, as we persist, we come closer to saying “those times are over.”

With an appropriately outraged Perspective, this is Monique Hosein.

Monique Hosein is a doctor of public health student at UC, Berkeley and, sometimes, a jazz singer. She lives in Albany.