As it often does, The Associated Press has stepped in to provide some guidance and set some standards, which can be followed by all journalists, not just AP members. In a blog post last week, AP Standards Vice President John Daniszewski said the broadest term, and this the best, is "sexual misconduct." He wrote:
“Sexual harassment” has a particular legal meaning. It is, per Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “inappropriate, unwelcome, and, typically, persistent behavior, as by an employer or co-worker, that is sexual in nature, specifically when actionable under federal or state statutes.”Veteran editor Anne Glover writes for The Poynter Institute, "You could probably make a point that misconduct doesn't quite capture the depth of the experience for the victim, either. After all, the definition for that is ';unacceptable or improper behavior, especially by an employee or professional person.' Unacceptable is pretty strong, but improper is weaker than harassment. And yet, other synonyms fall short or seem stilted as well. Put 'sexual' in front of these and see how it sounds:
While that definition is broad, encompassing many kinds of misbehavior, the word “harassment” is too mild to describe some of the activities that have been alleged in recent weeks. Beyond mere harassment, these have ranged to allegations of assault, serious abuse, pedophilia and even rape.
In our individual stories, we should be as specific as possible in describing the kinds of behavior that is being alleged or admitted — such as groping, unwanted kissing, disrobing, or verbal or physical abuse or assault.
In slugs and headlines, we have decided to adopt the generalized description “sexual misconduct,” rather than “sexual harassment,” because it encompasses a broader range of sexual misbehavior and does not run the risk of diminishing some of the alleged acts.
misdeeds; offenses; misbehavior; transgressions; wrongdoing. So misconduct, while not perfect, seems as good a word as any to use in headlines, display type, chyrons or stories."