Understand sexual misconduct - Glossary

Definitions of frequently used terms related to sexual misconduct

The information on this page is designed to promote common understanding of some of the terminology, processes, and references related to Harmful and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour (HISB) for the CAF. It is for explanatory and/or educational use only, and is not a substitute for current direction, policy or law.

Abuse of subordinates

Every person who strikes or otherwise ill-treats any person who by reason of rank or appointment is subordinate to him is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to imprisonment for less than two years or to less punishment.

Adverse personal relationships

If a personal relationship has a negative effect on the security, cohesion, discipline or morale of a unit, the personal relationship is considered adverse for the purpose of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) policy.

Adverse personal relationships are not to be mistaken for “fraternization.” Fraternization is any relationship between a CAF member and a person from an enemy or belligerent force, or a CAF member and a local inhabitant within a theatre of operations where CAF members are deployed.


Bullying is a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance; the person doing the bullying has power over the person being victimized.

Bystander effect

The term bystander effect refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress.


“Cisgender (Adj.): having or relating to a gender identity that corresponds to the culturally determined gender roles for one’s birth sex (i.e., the biological sex one was born with.) a cisgender man or cisgender woman is thus one whose internal gender identity matches, and presents itself in accordance with, the externally determined cultural expectations of the behaviour and roles considered appropriate for one’s sex as male or female. Also called cisgendered.” Source: American Psychological Association. (2015), APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.)

Code of Service Discipline

Disciplinary action through the military justice system is carried out in accordance with the Code of Service Discipline (CSD), which is Part Ill of the National Defence Act (NDA). The CSD establishes a number of offences that are uniquely military in nature, for example conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline, and disgraceful conduct. The CSD also incorporates all offences under the Criminal Code of Canada, all other federal statutes and, in certain circumstances, foreign laws.


Consent means the voluntary agreement to engage in the activity in question. It is granted without the influence of force, threats, fear, fraud or abuse of authority. Consent is considered solely from the complainant's point of view, taking into consideration the circumstances surrounding the accused's physical contact with the complainant to include any words or gestures, whether by the accused or the complainant, and any other indication of the complainant's state of mind at the time.

With respect to sexual assault, while not limiting the circumstances, section 273.1 of the Criminal Code sets out when there is no consent:

  1. where the agreement is expressed by the words or conduct of a person other than the complainant
  2. where the complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity
  3. where the accused induces the complainant to engage in the activity by abusing a position of trust, power or authority
  4. where the complainant expresses , by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to engage in the activity, or
  5. where the complainant, having consented to engage in sexual activity, expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to continue to engage in the activity

Discriminatory behaviours

Behaviours that are discriminatory in nature, divided into two groups:

  1. Discrimination on the basis of Sex:
    • Suggestions that people do not act like a man or woman is supposed to act
    • Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because of their sex
    • Comments that people are either not good at a particular job or should be prevented from having a particular job because of their sex
  2. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity:
    • Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because of their sexual orientation or assumed sexual orientation
    • Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because they are (or are assumed to be) transgender


Diversity is any collective mixture characterized by differences and similarities or all the ways in which we differ. Diversity includes variations within a group such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age or gender amongst others, encompassing differences in natural abilities, personalities and physical characteristics.

Managing and valuing diversity is about allowing individuals to make their maximum contribution regardless of any differences. This multiplicity of thoughts, opinions and viewpoints results in a creative and effective team.

Finally, diversity is a question of leadership and not a simple matter of embracing a social cause. It means the active inclusion of all CAF members as equitable contributors to mission accomplishment.

For more information, refer to the Canadian Armed Forces Diversity Strategy (accessible only on the National Defence network).

Domestic violence/Family violence

Family violence includes many different forms of physical and emotional abuse, as well as neglect carried out by family members or intimate partners to control and/or harm a member of their family or someone with whom they have an intimate relationship. It may include a single act of violence or a number of acts that form a pattern of abuse. Family violence can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences for victims and for those who see or hear the violence.

Although the Criminal Code does not refer to specific "family violence offences," many Criminal Code offences could be used to charge someone with acts of family violence. For more information on the criminal laws that could be applied, please see Family Violence Laws.

Duty to report

As part of the maintenance of discipline, there is a duty for all officers (with limited exceptions) and non-commissioned  members (NCMs) to report to the proper authority any infringements of the pertinent statutes, regulations, rules, orders and instructions governing the conduct of persons subject to the Code of Service Discipline (CSD).

For more information see:

Employment Equity

Employment Equity is a strategy designed to eliminate discrimination or barriers and open the competition for employment and advancement opportunities to those who might otherwise be excluded.

The purpose of the Employment Equity Act is to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability. In the fulfillment of that goal, it is also meant to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by:

  • women
  • Aboriginal peoples
  • persons with disabilities
  • members of visible minorities

The Act gives effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.

Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+)

GBA+ is an analytical tool used to assess the potential impacts of policies, programs, services and other initiatives on diverse groups of women and men, taking into account gender and other identity factors. The "plus" in the name highlights that GBA+ goes beyond gender and includes the examination of a range of other intersecting identity factors (such as age, education, language, geography, culture and income).

For more information, refer to Status of Women Canada.


Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex (the state of being male, female or an intersex variation which may complicate sex assignment), sex-based social structures (including gender roles and other social roles) or gender identity.

Gender expression

External appearance of one's gender identity is usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice. It may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Gender identity

One's innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither. It is how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth. Gender identity is fundamentally separate from a person’s sexual orientation. 

Harmful and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour (HISB)

Within the context of Operation HONOUR, the CAF has employed the term "Harmful and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour" to describe behaviours that are inconsistent with the profession of arms.
Harmful inappropriate sexual behaviour includes but is not limited to:

Actions that perpetuate stereotypes and modes of thinking that devalue members on the basis of their sex, sexuality, or sexual orientation include:

  • unacceptable language or jokes of a sexual nature
  • accessing, distributing or publishing in the workplace material of a sexual nature, offensive sexual remarks
  • exploitation of power relationships for the purposes of sexual activity
  • unwelcome requests of a sexual nature or verbal abuse of a sexual nature
  • publication of an intimate image of a person without their consent
  • voyeurism
  • indecent acts
  • sexual interference;
  • sexual exploitation and other offences of a sexual nature.


In a policy that applies to both CAF members and DND employees, harassment is defined as:

"Improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. 

It also includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act (i.e. based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, pardoned conviction and conviction for which a record suspension has been ordered). Harassment is normally a series of incidents but can be one severe incident which has a lasting impact on the individual. (Based on the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, Treasury Board)."

Note: For behaviour to be considered sexual harassment, the behaviour must meet the six criteria:

  • improper conduct by an individual (sexual or sexist in nature)
  • the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known that the conduct would cause offence or harm (I didn’t know he/she would be offended is not a defense)
  • directed at another individual (general inappropriate statements, while offensive, would not necessarily constitute harassment)
  • offensive to that individual
  • was a series of incidents or one severe incident that had a lasting impact on that individual (a one-time stupid remark, although potentially offensive and should be dealt with, would not be considered harassment)
  • occurred in the workplace (which can include places such as the mess, the on-base clubs, quarters, dining hall, gym, hotel on TD, and sanctioned events such as Christmas dinners and course parties, actual office space, classrooms, garrisons, ships, hangars and vehicle aircraft)

Note: This is a Treasury Board definition, which is used by, and applies within, the CAF.

For more information, see DAOD 5012-0.


Hazing is any action taken, or any situation created intentionally, that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule and risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.


Intersex people are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics, including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones or genitals that, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies."

Such variations may involve genital ambiguity and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.

Leadership team

The leadership team is comprised of the commanding officer (CO) and their key personal staff. Royal Canadian Navy leadership teams normally consist of the CO, Coxswain and Executive Officer (XO). In Army units, leadership teams typically include the CO and RSM. In the Royal Canadian Air Force, the “leadership team” approach is integral to the Team Performance model applied to air crews and controllers.

The relationship between the CO and their leadership team is based on Canadian military law and the military ethos, which calls for a strong, cohesive team based on a common understanding of the primacy of operations and the shared beliefs, expectations and core values of military service.


LGBTQ2 is an acronym for the categories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit. It may be used to refer to anyone who is non-heterosexual or non-cisgender, instead of exclusively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Those who add intersex people to LGBT groups or combine the two acronyms, use the term LGBTIQ. Others use LGBT+ to encompass a wide spectrum of gender and sexuality.

Some indigenous people choose to identify as Two Spirit rather than, or in addition to, identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer. Prior to European arrival, Two Spirit people were respected members of their communities and were often accorded special status based on their unique abilities to understand both male and female perspectives.

These identities were recognized and celebrated from a young age as gifts from the creator. Two Spirit people were often the visionaries, healers and medicine people. The term Two Spirit affirms the interrelatedness of all aspects of identity, including gender, sexuality, community, culture, and spirituality. It is an English term used to stand in for the many indigenous words for those with sexual and gender diverse identities.


Retaliation in the form of ostracism typically involves exclusion from social acceptance and can include acts like bullying, “unfriending” someone on social media sites or deliberately not inviting someone to a group activity they normally would have been a part of. 

It threatens psychological needs (belonging, self-esteem, control and meaningful existence) and unleashes a variety of physiological, affective, cognitive, and behavioural responses.

Perpetrator/Alleged offender/Suspect/Attacker

It is important to be careful when referring to someone as a perpetrator, alleged offender, suspect or an attacker.  In law enforcement jargon, a suspect is a known person accused or suspected of committing a crime. Police and reporters often use the word suspect as a jargon when referring to the perpetrator of the offense.

However, the distinction between suspect and perpetrator recognizes that the suspect is not known to have committed the offense, while the perpetrator—who may not yet have been suspected of the crime and is thus not necessarily a suspect—is the one who did. The suspect may be a different person from the perpetrator, or there may have been no actual crime, which would mean there is no perpetrator.

To call someone a “perpetrator” or an “attacker,” therefore, can be seen as prejudging. Using “alleged offender,” however, can imply to the victim/survivor that the incident was “alleged” and may not have happened. In this app, you will find “perpetrator,” “alleged offender,” and “attacker” used almost interchangeably in acknowledgement of the diversity and the variations in commonly understood language across the institution.

Personal relationships

The CAF respects the rights of its members to form personal relationships, which it defines as:

"An emotional, romantic, sexual or family relationship, including marriage or a common-law partnership or civil union, between two CAF members, or a CAF member and a DND employee or contractor, or member of an allied force."

CAF members must notify their chain of command of any personal relationship that could jeopardize any of the following CAF policy objectives:

  • To prevent the erosion of lawful authority
  • To maintain operational effectiveness
  • To protect vulnerable CAF members and others
  • To maintain general standards of professional and ethical conduct
  • To avoid detrimental effects on unit operational effectiveness

If a personal relationship has a negative effect on the security, cohesion, discipline or morale of a unit, the personal relationship is considered adverse for the purpose of CAF policy.

Prohibition on reprisals

No CAF member shall take any disciplinary, administrative or other action that may adversely affect the service, employment or working conditions of the person who has, in good faith, reported to a proper authority any infringement of the pertinent statutes, regulations, rules, orders and instructions governing the conduct of any person subject to the CSD.


Reprisal can involve a range of unjustified personnel actions, such as interfering with promotion, unreasonably downgrading someone’s evaluation or unfairly denying an award or an assignment.


Retaliation is an umbrella term encompassing illegal, impermissible or hostile actions taken as a result of making or being suspected of making a report or a complaint, either formally or informally, of a criminal offense.

Safety plan

A safety plan is personalized and proactive tool used to reduce the risk of further harm.


Sex is the biological and physiological characteristics that define men, women and intersex persons. A person’s sex is most often designated by a medical assessment at the moment of birth (also referred to as birth-assigned sex).

Sexual assault

The Department of Justice defines sexual assault “an assault committed in circumstances of a sexual nature such that the sexual integrity of the complainant/victim is violated”.

A common misunderstanding is that “sexual assault” is synonymous with “rape.” It is not. The term “rape” is not used in Canadian law. In simple terms, sexual assault is “unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature,” and can be broken down into three basic categories:

  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Sexual activity where the victim was unable to consent
  • Sexual attack (commonly referred to as “rape”)

Sexual harassment

The same policy (DAOD 5012-0) that covers harassment also covers harassment of a sexual nature. The following are examples of behaviour that could constitute sexual harassment (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Displaying pictures or posters, or sending e-mails that are of a sexual nature
  • Unwelcome social invitations, with sexual overtones or flirting
  • Comments of a sexual nature designed to destroy a person's reputation
  • Inappropriate questions, suggestions or remarks about a person's sex life

Sexual misconduct

The term "sexual misconduct" is defined in DAOD 5019-5 as "one or more acts that:

  • are either sexual in nature or committed with the intent to commit an act or acts that are sexual in nature, and
  • constitute an offence under the Criminal Code or the Code of Service Discipline"

In addition to Criminal Code offences such as sexual assault, which are always considered sexual in nature, offences under the CSD, such as disgraceful conduct, or conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline, may sometimes be considered sexual in nature depending on the circumstances.

Sexual orientation

Note: Due to the developing understanding of constructs, shifting usage of terms and contextual use of this term, the following definition, taken from the American Psychological Association. (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.), is offered as guidance only.

Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted. Categories of sexual orientation typically have included attraction to members of one's own sex (gay men or lesbians), attraction to members of the other sex (heterosexuals), and attraction to members of both sexes (bisexuals). Some people identify as pansexual or queer in terms of their sexual orientation, which means they define their sexual orientation outside of the gender binary of "male" and "female" only.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence is defined as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including (but not limited to) home and work (World Health Organization).


Human sexuality is the quality of being sexual or the way people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. This involves biological, erotic, physical, emotional, social or spiritual feelings and behaviours. Because sexuality is a broad term that has varied over time, it lacks a precise definition.

Sexualized behaviour

Sexualized behaviour contribute to a broader sexualized culture and consist of three broad categories:

  • Inappropriate verbal and non-verbal communication (Sexual jokes, unwanted sexual attention, inappropriate sexual comments, inappropriate discussion about sex life)
  • Behaviours involving sexually explicit materials (Displaying, showing, or sending sexually explicit materials; taking and/or posting inappropriate or sexually suggestive photos or videos of any CAF members without consent)
  • Unwanted physical contract or suggested sexual relations (Indecent exposure or inappropriate display of body parts; repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relationships; unwelcome physical contact or getting too close; offering workplace benefits for engaging in sexual activity or being mistreated for not engaging in sexual activity).


Stalking occurs when a person who has no legal reason to contact you, continues to bother you after you have said you want to be left alone. This repeated, unwanted contact can make you afraid for your personal safety. In Canada, when criminal charges are laid by the police for stalking, the crime is known as criminal harassment.


Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Vicarious trauma

Vicarious trauma is the transformation, over time, in the psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being as a result of from empathic engagement with traumatized victims and survivors.

Victim-centered approach

Victim-centered approach is a deliberate focus on the needs and concerns of a victim/survivor to ensure they receive compassionate and sensitive support in a nonjudgmental manner.


People who prefer the term “survivor” often choose it because, for them, it conveys a positive message of strength and resilience. It is a triumph of hope over despair and that the future is opening up rather than closing down.

But just as we support someone’s right to identify as a survivor, we need to hold space for those who don’t, and who feel the term “survivor” places undue expectations on them to be strong (or stronger than they feel). They prefer the word "victim" because it places the focus back where they feel it belongs: on the attacker who took away their choices and “victimized” them. 

Others challenge society’s tendency to victim-blame, by proudly reclaiming their title of “victim.”  Technically speaking, and in the eyes of the law because sexual assault is a crime, anyone who has been sexually assaulted is a “victim” of a crime.

Many national organizations, such as the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), are now deliberately using both survivor and victim interchangeably because it is equally possible to be both a “survivor” and a “victim” depending on the context of the experience. In Operation HONOUR materials, you will find three terms, “victim/survivor,” “victim,” and “survivor”, are used in acknowledgement of the right of a victim and/or survivor to define their own context and identify themselves accordingly.

We recognize there are a number of other ways that individuals may define their experience and some wish to avoid using the terms “victim” or “survivor” altogether. They may use terms such as “having experienced” or “been affected by” sexual misconduct. If you are uncertain about what term to use, ask for the individual’s preference.

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