Men and… telling it like it is!

Article 1 in a short series.

We live in a world of constant “spin”. Thanks to social media, there are many new ways to cover up the truth and deceive others for political reasons or personal gain. Or for no reason at all, just by passing on the lies and half-truths that have become accepted. Sometimes too, the blunt truth feels uncomfortable, so people may speak in ways that “water down” the truth.

This can be especially dangerous and harmful when the topic is violence, which is often hidden or justified in a fog of myth, misleading language, and nonsense. We can expect people who commit violence to hide the truth of their actions. This is not surprising, even if it is unwelcome.

But we should be able to expect our public institutions to “tell it like it is”, especially when the problem at hand – violence – is so common and harmful to so many. We live in a democracy; the blunt truth, told simply, is an absolute necessity – hard as it might be sometimes to speak the truth.

Here, in this series of short articles, we show how the most basic facts about violence are concealed in news media, criminal codes, professional websites, psychological reports, and other forms of “professional” writing. We also show that, by using misleading language when talking about violence, we reduce the accountability of the people who behave violently, and unfairly put blame on the people who are the victims of this violence.

If someone flies to Rome, gets off the plane, finds a gun, then robs a bank at gunpoint, they will not be accused of “financial tourism”. The term “financial tourism” could refer to a guided tour of the Italian mint or the Italian stock exchange. These sights are at least possible destinations for tourists, even if they are not on the top-10 list of most interesting cultural landmarks. 

We do not need a legal eagle to tell us that the term “financial tourism” in no way fits the kinds of actions involved in a bank robbery. Tourism is not robbery; robbery is not a “financial” exchange, even if money is involved. 

But if someone flies to Bangkok, heads to a specially selected hotel, and attacks and molests children who are dragged there on the threat of death, they will be accused of “child sex tourism”. They may even be called a “sex tourist”. The horrific violence they committed is covered up by using this kind of language. Their attacks on children have nothing to do with “sex” and nothing to do with “tourism”. And yet, “sex tourism” is a common term in our everyday language. Even the criminal code of Canada would powerfully redefine and conceal the real nature of these actions. 

The criminal code sections on sexualized violence against children contain the same misleading language. Section 151 refers to “Sexual Interference” – it portrays the actions as coming from a “sexual purpose”. “Interference” is a penalty in hockey; the term in no way reflects the level of violence and coercion involved in committing the crime. 

Section 152 of the criminal code refers to “Invitation to Sexual Touching”. An “invitation” is a positive act – you invite a friend for coffee or for dinner. You might find a movie or a moment between you and your children “touching” in the most positive sense. The actions involved in someone forcing their body onto the body of a child, or forcing a child to manipulate their body, are in no way “sexual”. It is the abuse of power by someone over a child and is a form of violence. 

The risk in using misleading language, like that used in examples above from the criminal code of Canada, is that we are taking away the accountability that belongs to the people who perpetrate such crimes. It also sends a powerful and harmful message to people who were victimized as children. It suggests that as children, they were participants in wrongful sex. This is untrue and is a form of public humiliation of children and youth. 

In the next article in this series, we will look at some more examples of how the use of misleading language by organizations can cover up violence and abuse, how it takes away the accountability of the people who perpetrate the violence, and how it ends up placing blame on victims.


  • Allan Wade

    Allan Wade Ph.D. lives on Vancouver Island, where he works as a family therapist, researcher, and consultant. At the Centre for Response-Based Practice, Allan works with a number of colleagues who share a primary interest in promoting effective responses in cases of violence and other forms adversity.

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