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.

Harassment Language 5 December,2017Amanda Font

  • Curious

    So the Prophet Mohammed was a pedophile. Got it.

  • Long

    1. If both parties were drunk and had sex, it might be no-consensual sex since both don’t remember any consensus.
    2. 18 and 19 are teenagers and adults.
    3. People are innocent until proven guilty. Scandal is a moral judgement. And, being in a scandal is not a crime, such as adultery.

    Legal terminology is chosen carefully to protect us.

    In this perspective, Ms. Hosein has made many broad unproven quilty assumptions rendering herself pointless. She said: “Those with significantly less power than the abuser cannot be party to a sex scandal”. She already assumed one party an abuser simply because there was a scandal.

    A little more logic training will help.

    • Monique

      Hello there,

      You make some really good points. As I mentioned to another “commenter” there are some subtleties that time did not permit, hence the allusion to the example of a 30 year old and younger teenagers – some of the allegations refer to behavior that is actually legal in Alabama, e.g. having sex with a consenting 16 year old. The point – and as Ellen DeGeneres says .. “and I do have one” – is that we might also consider the likely power differential in that situation. You might note that in this area of the law I do not believe “abuse of power” is a term that refers to sexual violence.

      Another very good point you make is that scandal is a moral judgement (of a different sort.) That was my definition. It was not my intention to judge a particular case, I was making the assumption “for the sake of argument,” i..e read “when it is the case that ….” let us not refer to criminal or abusive behavior as a sex scandal. I can see how this may have been unclear.

      i presume that your recommendation for my training was merely to punctuate your dismay rather than either an earnestly made referral or mere condescension. Thank you for your otherwise thoughtful comments.

  • Steve Torgerson

    Thanks Monique, indeed, these are good clarifications. Great voice too! I can see how you’d be a fine Jazz singer.

    • Monique

      Thank you for your kind remarks.

  • bannister

    Take a step back… Who could have predicted the progress towards gender
    related workplace issues which are happening now under Trump? I don’t
    think Hillary would have been as good, her history was of persecuting
    her husbands accusers. More predators have fallen in the past 6 months under Trump than the past 60 years under all the others.

  • bannister

    Trumps activities were known during the election, seems like he was still elected, Many more of his peers judged him than any jury of 12.

  • Michele

    Brava, Ms. Hosein! It’s vital that the distinctions you made about language be identified again and again. When one person, regardless of gender, holds significant power over another, the person with less power is not in a position to freely give informed consent. “Long”, below, does not know what he or she is talking about when it comes to sexual assault. And, yes, Bill Clinton was a sexual predator.

    • Long

      So, a subordinate will never be really falling in love with a person whose social or business position is higher?

      I did not deny the possibility of sexual assault in this situation. But, you can not say every romantic relationship under this situation is sexual assault. Use logic please.

      • Monique

        I love that you love logic! It’s good stuff.

        I would think more broadly of sexual violence and when there is a power differential in a given situation. But again you raise a good point. Can single (to avoid scandal) heads of state date each other when they are still in office? Do they have to be from countries of equal power with no trade deals? I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head. Again it goes back to when one has power over another how does the less powerful partner freely give consent?

        I do not think that anyone is asserting that people in different circumstances can’t fall in love.

        • Long

          Monique: Only logical arguments have effects in the courtroom. When you make a statement which is logically incorrect, even if it covers 90% of cases, it is still a wrong statement. Your perspective is seeking for “justice”. You can not make your justice for 90% of the cases as the expense of 10% of innocent people. I feed this back to you, hoping you know your perspective could have more sustaining effects if you use logic, not just being raged.

          So, you can not assume a sexual misconduct until it is proven so. You don’t want your father, brothers, or your sons to be labeled as sexual predators simply because they are claimed by some women. Before a person is proven guilty, you have to give the benefit of doubt to the accused. If you want to right the wrong, you have to be right first.

    • Monique

      Thank you for this comment. I remember at the time of the “scandal” about which we knew the most, there was philandering, grossly inappropriate behavior for a workplace and all sorts of things but the idea of the difference in power rather than just two adults in a scandal did not hit me as hard at the time. It is about how freely one can give consent. I’m speaking more broadly of sexual violence. Everyone who seems to consent because his or her job was at stake or even a trade deal hung in the balance. It’s just something worth thinking about. Thank you for your thoughtful remark.

  • Another Mike

    Yes, a full-fledged adult — whatever that means — can date teenagers. First, a woman of 18 is a legal adult, capable of living on her own, marriage, voting, buying a car, etc. My mother’s mother married at 18 — which meant she “dated” a man when she was under 18. Their marriage lasted seventy years, till her death.

    Second, the state legislature of Alabama has decided that a girl of sixteen is old enough and mature enough to decide whether or not to have sex. When I was a kid, some of the best-looking girls in high school were dating guys in their middle 20’s, when they themselves were only 16. One of my neighbors assured his fiancee’s parents that he would make sure she graduated high school. That marriage lasted only ten years, but that is pretty typical of these times.

    Finally, don’t infantilize teenagers. It’s not necessary, for Moore to be condemned. Moore allegedly groped a 14 year old, far too young to consent to this activity. And Moore allegedly attempted to rape a 16 year old, who he lured into his car with the promise of a ride home. These are heinous offenses which merit prison time.

    • Monique

      I appreciate the nuance here. It simply was not possible to cover all that in two minutes. We had this very discussion because as you pointed out some things said in broad terms includes 18 year olds and 20 year olds and some are deeply concerning but legal depending on the law and some of them are outright criminal. This was more about the fact the even though the law in Alabama allows a 16 year old to consent to “dating” a 30 year old and an officer of the court at that, there is reason to pause and – outside the legal realm – consider this something different from dating.

      I really appreciate and completely agree with your remark regarding not infantilizing teenagers. Thank you for that.

  • Tori

    Thank you, Ms Hosein. I’ve been thinking about this for a long long time. I agree with everything you said. This is patriarchy in action.

    • Monique

      Thank you! Yes there was no space to discuss patriarchy, misogyny and root causes or even that there are survivors of all genders yet the root causes are often the same.
      Thanks for the comment.

  • Deva Luna

    I love what you are saying about language and also about power differentials. This an important focus to bring to the discussion!

    • Monique

      Thank you!

  • Another Mike

    Another thought: There often is a power differential between men and women. Two of my acquaintances are daughters of physicians who did not marry until their forties, to nurses in their early twenties. One of them was motivated by the financial straits of her widowed mother to pursue a lucrative business career — as she told me, life insurance can be stretched only so far, and she wanted to be financially independent.

  • a mature woman

    Thank you Ms Hosein, this was an important perspective for us to hear. Your educated distinction in the language be used elevated the conversation for many (not all) of us. Thank you for speaking up.

    • Monique

      Thank you, from a fellow Mature Woman. (Picture is a little dated)!

  • Sarah C.

    So beautifully put, Monique. I found myself voicing “uh-huh” and “yep” out loud by myself in the car in response to your points. Thank you!

    • Monique

      Thank you!

  • Monique

    Hello there, thank you for this conversation. The editor encourages contributors to interact with commenters. So that is one of the reasons that I am joining in. Take care.

    • Monique

      Also sometimes it is obvious that a comment is meant as a declaration rather than a jumping off point for dialogue. I have left those alone. If I have misunderstood your intention, I apologize.

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