Biography

Suzanne Zaccour is a DPhil candidate conducting research on the law of sexual offences. Her dissertation is supervised by Prof. Jonathan Herring and Prof. Rebecca Williams. Her published research mostly focuses on domestic violence, family law, the theory of "parental alienation", and inclusive legal language. She is also the author of three books respectively on feminist grammar, linguistic sexism, and sexual violence. 

Prior to coming to Oxford, she completed a B.C.L. & LL.B. at McGill University, an LL.M. at the University of Toronto, and an LL.M. at the University of Cambridge. She is an Oxford Farthings scholar at Pembroke College.

Personal website: www.suzannezaccour.com

Publications

Recent additions

  • S Zaccour and Michaël Lessard, 'La culture du viol dans le discours juridique : soigner ses mots pour combattre les violences sexuelles' (2022) Canadian Journal of Women and the Law
    Is sexual assault: (1) sexual abuse; (2) a sexual affair; (3) a youthful indiscretion; (4) a deviance; or (5) none of the above? It is not always easy to navigate the issue of sexual violence. In a society marked by rape culture, unconscious biases can lead us to euphemize, romanticize, eroticize, excuse, and even encourage sexual violence. This article offers a linguistic perspective on sexual violence by examining the biases, stereotypes, and rape myths that permeate legal discourses. We discuss terms that trivialize sexual violence, such as “sexual abuse,” “stealing a kiss,” “fondling,” and “misconduct.” We also analyze victim-blaming language, sexist expressions that present rape as a “loss of control,” constructions that mask or erase violent men, as well as words that otherize or pathologize perpetrators. By examining rape culture specifically from the perspective of language or discourse, we provide lawyers with new tools to advance the fight against gender-based violence.
  • S Zaccour, 'Parental Alienation (Syndrome) and the Law: An International Perspective on the Use and Abuse of Alienation Theory in Child Custody Cases' in Margaret Drew & Jean Mercier (ed), Challenging Parental Alienation: New Directions for Professionals and Parents (Routledge 2021)
    This chapter provides an overview of the use – and abuse – of parental alienation theory in court cases from an international perspective. Since their invention, the “parental alienation syndrome” and “parental alienation” belief systems have enjoyed increased recognition by the legal system, to the point of becoming a significant threat to women’s and children’s safety and autonomy. We will explore how this happened and survey the main concerns raised in the literature regarding courts’ reliance on the parental alienation belief system.
  • S Zaccour, '‘I’m Telling You, She Likes it Rough’: Sexual History Evidence, Consent and the BDSM Defense in Canadian Sexual Assault Trials' (2021) Child and Family Law Quarterly
    When a violent sexual assault is caught on video or results in injuries, defendants sometimes claim that the sexual activity was consensual BDSM or ‘rough sex’. This article seeks to understand the impact of this strategy when the complainant has previously engaged in ‘atypical’ sexual activity. The study of Canadian admissibility rulings and trial decisions shows that sexual history evidence is primarily used to support the legally prohibited inference that because a woman consented to rough sex in the past, she is more likely to have consented to the sexual activity in question. Defendants rely on the argument that repeated sexual activity is less likely to be criminal: if it is routine, then it is not rape. This strategy relies on and reinforces myths and stereotypes about sexual violence, particularly partner / marital sexual violence.

Journal Article (9)

S Zaccour and Michaël Lessard, 'La culture du viol dans le discours juridique : soigner ses mots pour combattre les violences sexuelles' (2022) Canadian Journal of Women and the Law
Is sexual assault: (1) sexual abuse; (2) a sexual affair; (3) a youthful indiscretion; (4) a deviance; or (5) none of the above? It is not always easy to navigate the issue of sexual violence. In a society marked by rape culture, unconscious biases can lead us to euphemize, romanticize, eroticize, excuse, and even encourage sexual violence. This article offers a linguistic perspective on sexual violence by examining the biases, stereotypes, and rape myths that permeate legal discourses. We discuss terms that trivialize sexual violence, such as “sexual abuse,” “stealing a kiss,” “fondling,” and “misconduct.” We also analyze victim-blaming language, sexist expressions that present rape as a “loss of control,” constructions that mask or erase violent men, as well as words that otherize or pathologize perpetrators. By examining rape culture specifically from the perspective of language or discourse, we provide lawyers with new tools to advance the fight against gender-based violence.
Michaël Lessard and S Zaccour, 'La rédaction inclusive en droit : pourquoi les objections ratent-elles la cible?' (2021) Canadian Bar Review
These are interesting times for the French language. Inclusive writing (or feminization) is more and more widespread, and the legal community is no exception: lawyers, notaries and judges of all stripes are carving out greater space for women and non-binary people in language. There are, however, pockets of resistance. Many people wonder whether inclusive language is truly appropriate in legal texts or if it should be confined to more informal contexts. In this article, we address these questions and take apart eight common objections to non-sexist legal writing: 1) Grammatical gender has nothing to do with a person’s gender 2) Grammar rules have nothing to do with patriarchy 3) Inclusive writing is a superficial undertaking 4) The feminine form bogs down writing 5) Judges do not use inclusive or gender-neutral writing 6) Feminization introduces errors in French 7) Non-sexist writing is too imprecise when it comes to the law 8) Feminization reinforces the binarity and sexism of the French language We will see that these objections are really myths founded on shaky ground.
S Zaccour, '‘I’m Telling You, She Likes it Rough’: Sexual History Evidence, Consent and the BDSM Defense in Canadian Sexual Assault Trials' (2021) Child and Family Law Quarterly
When a violent sexual assault is caught on video or results in injuries, defendants sometimes claim that the sexual activity was consensual BDSM or ‘rough sex’. This article seeks to understand the impact of this strategy when the complainant has previously engaged in ‘atypical’ sexual activity. The study of Canadian admissibility rulings and trial decisions shows that sexual history evidence is primarily used to support the legally prohibited inference that because a woman consented to rough sex in the past, she is more likely to have consented to the sexual activity in question. Defendants rely on the argument that repeated sexual activity is less likely to be criminal: if it is routine, then it is not rape. This strategy relies on and reinforces myths and stereotypes about sexual violence, particularly partner / marital sexual violence.
S Zaccour, 'Does Domestic Violence Disappear from Parental Alienation cases? Five Lessons from Quebec for Judges, Scholars, and Policymakers' (2020) Canadian Journal of Family Law
The theory of parental alienation—which asserts that children who reject one parent are brainwashed by the other parent—has often been used to punish caring mothers and grant custody to dangerous fathers. The legal community’s quick infatuation with this concept has sparked fiery debates between its proponents and domestic violence scholars. My research contributes to this urgent conversation by shedding new light on the role of domestic violence in parental alienation cases. I observe how series of cases involving the same family deal with the issue of domestic violence. This method reveals a worrisome “disappearing act”: as families repeatedly interact with the justice system, domestic violence tends to leave the picture. The result? A distortion: most women accused of parental alienation are victims of conjugal violence, yet the jurisprudence barely addresses this issue. The disappearance of domestic violence creates the impression that it is the exception, rather than the norm, in parental alienation cases.
S Zaccour and Michèle Breton, 'Coopérer avec la nature? Que nous apprend la théorie des jeux sur la personnalité juridique de l’environnement' (2020) McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law
Imagine a river polluted by a factory. Traditional legal avenues struggle to respond to this scenario, especially when no human being suffers from pollution. Thus, some jurisdictions are now turning to environmental legal personality, an innovative solution that allows the river to itself sue the polluting factory. What can game theory bring to the debate on the legal personality of the environment? We argue that legal personality makes the river a player whose interests are recognized and who can negotiate in its own name. Thus, environmental legal personality can be used not only to facilitate litigation, but also to promote the achievement of collectively desirable cooperative solutions. By staging a dialogue between law and game theory, we shed a new light on environmental negotiation and legal personality.
S Zaccour, 'All Families are Equal, But do Some Matter More than Others? How Gender, Poverty, and Domestic Violence Put Quebec’s Family Law Reform to the Test' (2019) Canadian Journal of Family Law 57
Who needs family law? While it is tempting to answer “everyone”, the stakes are not the same for all. I propose to evaluate family law rules in terms of how they address high-stakes situations—that is, the condition of vulnerable women. Thus, the test of good family law should be how well it deals with poverty and domestic violence, factors that directly constrain women’s ability to negotiate fair outcomes. To explore this method, I take the example of a recent proposal, developed by Alain Roy’s reform committee (the “Comité consultatif sur le droit de la famille”), and regarding which the Quebec government held public consultations in 2019. I show that this reform proposal, which purports to respond to the diversity of Quebec families, rather prioritizes a single ideal of the modern, equal, and autonomous family. The reform’s supposedly autonomy-enhancing rules would especially penalize poor and victimized women—thus failing my proposed test of good family law. These women, I argue, should be considered model test cases, not exceptions.
S Zaccour, 'Crazy Women and Hysterical Mothers: The Use of Gendered Mental-Health-Related Labels in Custody Disputes' (2018) Canadian Journal of Family Law 57
This research studies the use of gendered mental-health labels, such as “crazy,” “hysterical,” “insane,” and “emotionally unstable,” in Canadian custody cases decided between 2000 and 2016. Building on Judith Mosoff’s work on gender and mental health stigma in custody proceedings, it maps how these “pop-psychology” labels impact custody litigation. This investigation reveals that mental-health labels serve to discredit the mother, attack her parenting abilities, and distract from her allegations of violence by the father. The article also explores fathers’, mental health experts’, and judges’ roles in framing the mother’s credibility and parental capacity with regard to her alleged mental instability. It observes how the unjustified use of mental-health labels can backfire against the father, and how mothers can link out-of-court mental-health insults to legal arguments supporting their claim for custody. Although producing varied consequences, mental-health labels often reinforce gender biases and myths regarding domestic violence.
This research studies the use of gendered mental-health labels, such as "crazy," "hysterical," "insane," and "emotionally unstable," in Canadian custody cases decided between 2000 and 2016. Building on Judith Mosoff's work on gender and mental health stigma in custody proceedings, it maps how these "pop-psychology" labels impact custody litigation. This investigation reveals that mental-health labels serve to discredit the mother, attack her parenting abilities, and distract from her allegations of violence by the father. The article also explores fathers', mental health experts', and judges'roles in framing the mother's credibility and parental capacity with regard to her alleged mental instability. It observes how the unjustified use of mental-health labels can backfire against the father, and how mothers can link out-of-court mental-health insults to legal arguments supporting their claim for custody. Although producing varied consequences, mental-health labels often reinforce gender biases and myths regarding domestic violence.
S Zaccour, 'Parental Alienation in Quebec Custody Litigation' (2018) Cahiers de droit 1073
DOI: https://doi.org/10.7202/1055264ar
This article is a study of all Quebec custody cases dealing with parental alienation in 2016. It explores the definitions, findings and implications of parental alienation in legal disputes, in light of the models of parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome described in the academic literature. This research confirms feminists’ skepticism toward the use of parental alienation in custody litigation. It concludes that alienation has varying and inconsistent definitions in law, that there is a considerable disconnect between scientific knowledge and judges’ understanding of alienation, and that the concept of parental alienation in law is ambiguous and over-inclusive, seemingly to the detriment of mothers. There is a dire need for clearer and stricter guidelines on the use of parental alienation to ensure the accuracy, coherence, and fairness of the case law.
Michaël Lessard and S Zaccour, 'Quel genre de droit? Autopsie du sexisme dans la langue juridique' (2017) Revue de droit de l'Université de Sherbrooke 227
English: Would you say of a court whose jurisdiction was reduced that it was “emasculated”? Would you say of a child who was raped that she enjoyed a “sexual adventure”? Would you say of a high-ranking woman that “he” got the job? If you answered “no” to these provocations, you will enjoy this article. If you answered “yes”, you need to read it. Here we track sexism in the language of the law. Erasing women, pathologizing mothers, normalizing violence: these are but some of the discriminatory effects of the linguistic sexism that we undertake to detail in its every shape and form. The study of linguistic sexism must become a proper area of research. To this end, we offer a nomenclature of jurilinguistic sexisms (lexical, grammatical, terminological), as well as two new notions: ostentatious feminines and the linguistic glass ceiling. The former qualifies feminine forms that are significantly different from the masculine. The latter refers to some people’s stubborn designation of women in power in the masculine form in French. Our study offers tools for judges, lawyers, notaries, legists, and other legal practitioners to unmask the sexism hidden in their communications and familiarize themselves with new developments in inclusive writing. Français: Diriez-vous d’un tribunal dont on limite la compétence qu’on lui coupe les couilles? Diriez-vous d’une enfant violée qu’elle a vécu une « aventure sexuelle »? Diriez-vous de 30 avocates et d’un document qu’« ils » se trouvent dans la salle d’audience? Si vous avez répondu « non » à ces provocations, vous aimerez cet article. Si vous avez répondu « oui », vous en avez besoin. Nous traquons ici le sexisme dans la langue du droit. Effacer les femmes, pathologiser les mères, banaliser les violences: tels sont quelquesuns des effets discriminatoires de ce sexisme langagier que nous entreprenons de détailler sous toutes ses coutures. L’analyse du sexisme langagier doit devenir un champ d’étude en bonne et due forme. À cette fin, nous offrons une nomenclature des sexismes jurilinguistiques (lexical, grammatical, terminologique…), ainsi que deux nouvelles notions: la féminisation ostentatoire, un féminin marquée à l’oral, et le plafond de verre linguistique, cette obstination à nommer au masculin les femmes occupant de hautes fonctions. Notre étude offre des outils aux juges, avocat·es, notaires, légistes et autres practicien·nes du droit pour démasquer le sexisme caché dans leurs communications et se familiariser avec les nouveaux développements en matière de rédaction inclusive.

Chapter (3)

S Zaccour, 'Parental Alienation (Syndrome) and the Law: An International Perspective on the Use and Abuse of Alienation Theory in Child Custody Cases' in Margaret Drew & Jean Mercier (ed), Challenging Parental Alienation: New Directions for Professionals and Parents (Routledge 2021)
This chapter provides an overview of the use – and abuse – of parental alienation theory in court cases from an international perspective. Since their invention, the “parental alienation syndrome” and “parental alienation” belief systems have enjoyed increased recognition by the legal system, to the point of becoming a significant threat to women’s and children’s safety and autonomy. We will explore how this happened and survey the main concerns raised in the literature regarding courts’ reliance on the parental alienation belief system.
S Zaccour, 'Public Policy and Laws Addressing Men’s Violence Against Female Intimate Partners' in Todd Shackelford (ed), The SAGE Handbook of Domestic Violenc (SAGE 2020)
Michèle Breton and S Zaccour, 'Human vs River: Cooperation in Environmental Games Through Environmental Personhood' in Pierre-Olivier Pineau, Simon Sigué & Sihem Taboubi (ed), Games in Management Science (Springer 2019)
This chapter opens a conversation between law and game theory on the personhood status of environmental entities. Specifically, we consider the granting of personhood status to a river that suffers from the production activity of a firm creating economic value, but also pollution emissions as a by-product. If no one lives downstream, for instance, traditional responses to the environmental problem are unsatisfactory. We show that environmental personhood can help achieve efficient bargaining solutions between polluters and environmental entities. We also report on various approaches that have been taken in some countries to endow environmental persons with means to protect their rights.

Book (2)

S Zaccour, La fabrique du viol (Leméac 2019)
A book on rape culture.

Edited Book (1)

Research programmes

Research Interests

Rape Law; Feminist Legal Theory; Law and Language; Family Law; Animal Rights. 

Research projects