The #MeToo Movement took the world by storm during the last six months. Around the globe, discussions were held regarding the eradication of sexual harassment from the workplace. In the United States, a slew of prominent men, including actors, politicians, and others, were accused of committing acts of domestic violence and sexual assault—some of which occurred many years ago. Many of these accusations led these men to be subsequently fired. Others resigned in disgrace. Even now, some are caught in legal battles with their accusers.
The Origins of the #MeToo Movement
Tarana Burke originally coined the phrase “Me Too” in 2006 as a means of empathizing with vulnerable young women who had suffered from sexual harassment or abuse. Over time, the movement expanded to include women and men of all ages and races in multiple countries. The mission of the movement expanded from simply empathizing with victims to finding the best methods for holding abusers responsible and stopping the cycle of sexual violence.
The Scope of the Problem
In 2013, a World Health Organization report estimated that one-third of all women have been affected by sexual violence. In 2017, The Washington Post reported that in a poll, 47% of all households felt that sexual harassment in the workplace was becoming a serious problem. ABC News conducted a poll of American women, finding that 54% of women reported receiving inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances, and 95% of those women believed that the men responsible were usually not punished.
Women Break Their Silence
On October 5, 2017, the New York Times printed a bombshell article accusing the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of three decades of sexual harassment, assault and rape. More than 80 women have come forward with stories against him, including actress Ashley Judd. Weinstein has paid settlements to eight women.
Also in October, Actress Alyssa Milano exploded the movement by asking sexual assault victims to tweet “#MeToo.” Accusations were leveled against a number of men, including actor Kevin Spacey, Olympic team doctor Lawrence Nassar (serving 60 years in prison), Senate nominee Roy Moore, “Today” host Matt Lauer, and comedian Aziz Ansari. Accusations against other men followed in what seemed to be an unstoppable flood. In many instances, legal action against the accused wasn’t possible because the statute of limitations had expired. And in other cases, the facts of the accusations didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
In January, 2018, a million people participating in the second Women’s March highlighted the “#MeToo” movement. Women in the march typically said they felt empowered by speaking out.
Are Lives Being Destroyed by False Accusations?
To many, the “#MeToo” movement is the ultimate example of “he said/she said.” When a man claims the allegations against him are false, there tends to be no way for him to prove his innocence, yet he may well lose his job and reputation. An unproven accusation, whether it’s taken to court or not, can be sufficient to destroy a man’s life.
Many feel this is unfair, going against our system of due process and equal justice. As the old saying goes, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” As Summit Defense explains, “even a first-time conviction can lead to serious consequences and affect your employment prospects, your good name, burden you with a permanent criminal record, impose a restraining order and compromise your immigration status.” Should a man lose his career, his reputation, and his family because of an alleged twenty-year-old instance of groping which he may not have committed and which cannot be proven in a court of law? Should a man be held legally accountable for a consensual sexual encounter which the woman later regretted, and turned into an accusation against him? If a man is proven guilty of sexual crimes, shouldn’t his punishment fit his crime?
The #MeToo Movement can be expected to continue on its mission of empowerment and revelation. Sexual predators, no matter how rich and powerful they may be, must be exposed. However, those reporting and investigating alleged abuses should take steps to determine the truth before destroying lives. Unfortunately, publishing a scandalous story will undoubtedly continue to take precedence over searching for the truth.