Historically, men have used the high burden of evidence as a way to lock out any and all accusations of sexual assault or harassment in the workplace. This barrier prevented women from making their claims in courts, human resources departments or casually with their male friends. From what I’ve observed, the power of the #MeToo campaign has spawned a larger trend of calling out specific men in power. This has, in large part, gained its strength from minimizing the importance of evidence and encouraging the public to believe victims’ stories at face value. While this system has undoubtedly given women the justice they would have been denied in the past, it seems our fervor to correct this past injustice has blinded us from protecting a vital aspect of our justice system.
Due process isn’t just practiced in a courtroom — it is a cultural legacy of our democracy which has penetrated all aspects of American life. To seemingly do away with this democratic tradition would tarnish the efficacy of the current social movement of accusing the powerful. We shouldn’t let the movement’s current success in toppling the systematic cover-ups of harassment to begin to degrade the ideals of due process in the long run.
Sexual assault and/or harassment is a notoriously difficult crime to prosecute, since many victims feel extremely uncomfortable reporting it, gathering evidence is difficult and the worries of being stigmatized by society have suppressed victims’ ability to report the crimes. The recent celebrity accusations have unequivocally weakened these barriers for countless victims, giving them strength in numbers and support from a renewed spirit for justice in the media, college campuses and businesses. It used to take months for companies to discipline a man in a position of power, yet over the past few weeks we’ve seen countless being suspended or resigning within days, even hours of their accusers coming forward.
In many respects, this sounds great. The movement has been flushing out many men who have been lurking behind the cover of evidence and status to protect themselves. However, the rapidity at which this movement has been removing the accused from their jobs should sound some alarm bells in that it’s almost certainly giving leeway for some to falsely accuse innocent men and deny them sufficient time to launch counterclaims before having their careers destroyed by accusations.
It may be difficult to care about this issue in light of the many women who are getting the justice they deserve in today’s atmosphere, but it must be considered if the movement wishes to achieve a legacy of fairness. Currently, many figures within Hollywood and politics have likened it to a witch hunt or a new ‘terror’ similar to that of Robespierre’s frenzied attack on his political opponents in the French Revolution.
These critiques have a point, and considering their objections make for good evidence that the movement has been eroding a sense of fairness and justice in a general sense, even if it is rewarding those feelings for many victims. Michèle Burke, who has won two Oscars, expressed her suspicion of the rapidity of these accusations.
“It’s really great that people are speaking up. But it’s like medieval times, dragging people out and throwing rotten fruit. There has to be some due process also,” Burke said.
Kristie Allie, an actress, tweeted, “innocent until proven guilty is a fairly sane concept that I’m pretty sure each of us would like to be afforded.” Clearly, many in Hollywood are afraid of a media that has replaced due process with conviction by Twitter.
Of the men who have been accused by the movement, many have confessed and launched a series of responses apologizing or attempting to explain their actions. Clearly, these men should be considered guilty; they are confessing, after all. Yet there is also a substantial number of men who have been consistently denying the accusations coming forward. Robert Herjavec, Shark Tank investor, claims his wife has fabricated a series of lies to extort him for millions. His lawyer’s statement that “Mr. Herjavec’s character has always been one of respect and it is undeniable that his actions have always reflected that” should not be immediately discounted by activists.
Charlie Elphicke, a member of the United Kingdom parliament, said in a highly charged speech to party members that the government’s immediate firing of the accused was “a mess” and “a denial of justice when people who have had allegations made against them, lose their job or their party whip without knowing what those allegations are.” Elphicke’s comments came in light of recent speculation about how the public shaming and lack of evidence toward another MP may have contributed to his suicide days after being accused.
It is worrisome that some prominent feminists have equated accusation with proof. A day after allegations broke about Roy Moore, the Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti attacked Mitch McConnell for waiting to condemn him until some evidence was presented, writing “(he) didn’t elaborate on why multiple women going on the record wasn’t proof enough of the truth.” Though it has become clearer in the following weeks that Moore’s case is a guilty one, Valenti’s rushed statement is exactly the strain of thought that is substantiating the witch hunt argument — yes, multiple women coming forward is certainly more believable than one, but it doesn’t completely eliminate the right of the accused to press a defending argument.
In an ideal world, there would first be accusations, followed by a period of silence from the media as legal and private investigations determine the facts of the case, and when the claims are either substantiated or falsified, reaction from businesses and the media should follow. This would also put an end to the craziness of Hollywood studios prematurely cancelling dozens of productions, which unjustly punishes the hundreds of staffers who have worked hard to create them due to the alleged actions of a single man connected to the show.
Since we don’t live in an ideal world, and many women would be denied justice by the heavy burden of proof during the investigative phase, it is hard to prescribe a solution. What is needed as the movement continues forward, however, is a more case-by-case judgment of the accused, and not simply defaulting to public shaming hours after an accusation. Hopefully this will bring some sense of justice to all sides of the equation — the victims and the falsely accused — and preserve a general sense of fairness that is afforded to all of us.
Luke Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.