Who decides what is sexual misconduct?

Discussions about sexual conduct are sometimes taboo and can be rife with stigma and cultural repercussions, and have been frowned upon, but that is changing – I hope.

While being a controversial topic, sexual behaviours are personal and private realities with the once-common way to deal with them having been not to discuss them, just to let them happen, or not.

Recently the media has shared instances where people of power, wealth or influence have engaged in sexual conduct deemed to have been inappropriate or illegal. Mind you, the word “alleged” has also been included with many of those reports.

As minuscule as it may sound, it took me several weeks to consider how I would opine this topic, while acknowledging the seriousness of inappropriate situations dealing with human sexuality. While not wanting to lessen the gravity of this topic, my thoughts today are generalities based on what I have seen, experienced, read, and told about human sexual behaviour.

Humans are individuals with unique characteristics of wants, desires and behaviours; all of which are influenced by a multitude of variables such as socio- economic backgrounds, parental nurturing, life experiences, educational opportunities, and hormones.

A fact of our existence is that humans are mammals created with the ability to reproduce. Therein lays the beginning of potential problems: how does a person willingly participate in an action that might lead to the creation of babies while not engaging in behaviours that are inappropriate or illegal?

Into the procreation equation let us add the need for touch, without which most humans, as well as many animals, would suffer mental anguish to varying degrees. If humans move to the stage that we are fearful to touch anyone, and I mean appropriately and/or with affection, where does that leave us as caring species?

We can create laws in our attempts to control illegal sexual behaviours, but unfortunately, such laws are not guarantees that humans will behave properly. Therein lays another problem, what are “proper” versus “improper” behaviours and who decides such? I am not naïve to think that all males and females will behave suitably to our current norms and laws; many will, but some won’t. We cannot expect something not to happen because it is against the law. If that was reality there would be no need for law enforcement officers or correctional facilities.

As a male educator, I was taught to be aware of how accusations might develop over something said or done without the remotest intent of it having been inappropriate or illegal. I tried to be very careful with statements that I made or jokes that I shared, and even where my eyes were directed. I ensured that my office door contained a large, transparent window to the hallway that permitted all to see everything that was transpiring within my workplace. Should an accusation been made, and none were, such an alleged deed would likely have become a “you said/I said” reality and possibly moved into the court of public opinion.

Human brains do not finish developing until our early 20s, therefore, a lot of years exist between puberty and maturity for people to do something regrettable and possibly illegal when it relates to their sexuality. Then we move into adulthood with an immensely expanded world for potential misdeeds. I would surmise that there are not many adults who have not, for whatever reasons, been involved in some degree of sexual actions as developing adolescents, or during their adulthood years that others might allege to have been inappropriate.

This topic is perplexing to me due to the solutions to sexual improprieties not being clear cut and because varying and emotional opinions abound. To assist our communications, we need to appropriately discuss sexuality with others and with our developing youngsters, and continue such conversations in adulthood years. We need organizations to have avenues through which people can bring forth concerns or report actions that run contrary to Canada’s laws and our society’s expectations of respect to all.

We can’t take the milk out of the tea, we can only live with what has been done and strive to make certain that the consequences of our actions are deemed to be acceptable and not harmful. We can also accept the fact that humans are not perfect and self-awareness to potential troubling situations are also our personal responsibilities.

Ray Bates