FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure

Photo by Rob Kall | CC BY 2.0

Then there was Eric Schneiderman.

After using his office as a bully pulpit to ride the #MeToo wave, the now-former New York state attorney general is yet another boldface male name to succumb to charges of extreme misogyny. Four of his exes say he subjected them to physical abuse, including choking and slapping their faces. Schneiderman claims the violence was BDSM-related fun for all concerned, just “role-playing and other consensual sexual activity.”

Students of political crisis management will see something less than an uncategorical denial of guilt in Schneiderman’s “serious allegations, which I strongly contest.” “Strongly contest” resides far on the denial-o-meter from “it absolutely did not happen” and closer to nolo contendere — which, considering that he resigned rather than stuck around to fight, it effectively is.

Schneiderman’s implosion followed the standard script of #MeToo: accusation leads to career loss. Only career loss. This is a radical departure from how American society deals with what are, after all, crimes: going to the police, filing charges, prosecuting in court. The legal system is getting cut out of the loop.

In New York, slapping someone’s face with the intent to cause physical injury is assault in the third degree, a felony punishable by up to a year in jail. Failing a documented sustained injury, prosecutors often downgrade the charge to a misdemeanor, either attempted assault or harassment. Former AG Schneiderman is having an unpleasant week. But he probably won’t be arrested.

More than a dozen men and teenage boys accused actor Kevin Spacey of sexual harassment (a tort), statutory rape and attempted rape. Prosecutors in Los Angeles and the UK are weighing whether to file rape charges, but so far the only actual sanctions have been professional, like Netflix’s cancellation of Spacey’s hit series “House of Cards.” Even so, rehabilitation may be imminent. Legendary director Bernardo Bertolucci already says he wants to work with the disgraced actor.

The only #MeToo casualties in serious legal jeopardy are the recently convicted mickey-slipping sexual-assaulting comedian Bill Cosby and predatory producer Harvey Weinstein, though Weinstein’s problems aren’t all directly attributable to the sordid behavior that destroyed his Hollywood empire. Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. is also investigating whether Weinstein misused company money to pay hush money to his accusers.

For the most part, #MeToo targets who stand accused in the court of public opinion for criminal acts will never face them in a court of law. Comedian Louis C.K. and PBS talker Charlie Rose are alleged to have committed indecent exposure (a misdemeanor that can get you 15 days in prison plus a $250 fine in New York, where Rose lived). Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore allegedly lured a 14-year-old girl into his car for sex, which would expose him to felony charges and 10 years in prison (but the statute of limitations has expired). If Today show star Matt Lauer used the secret Bond villain-like button under his desk to prevent a woman from leaving his office while he was hitting on her, that’s unlawful detention in the second degree, a misdemeanor that carries a one-year prison term. These men lost their jobs. But there’s no indication they’re in danger of prosecution.

#MeToo seems both too much and too little.

Too much, because the loss of hard-won career success is no small thing. On February 10, 2018, President Trump asked aloud: “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” Setting aside the hilarious incongruity of a person who kills with drones fretting over due process, Trump is correct in one respect: the #MeToo movement has claimed a lot of scalps in a very short time.

The president probably wasn’t thinking of Al Franken, but in his case the ratio of sanction — being forced out of the Senate — to seriousness of alleged offense — butt-groping — felt excessive to Democrats. As a liberal and self-professed feminist, however, the added charge of hypocrisy came into play.

If you were raped or sexually assaulted, however, #MeToo sanctions may feel like too little.

What even many thoughtful men fail to understand is that #MeToo is not, nor does it seek to be, a legal process. It is a cultural reaction to a legal system that fails women accusers. It is a workaround. It is a drive to change what constitutes acceptable behavior on a date, at the office, in the bedroom. It has nothing to do with due process — because due process hasn’t worked for women victims.

Victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment who want to hold attackers criminally accountable face structural challenges: embarrassment, fear that their attacker will hurt them again, a culture of slut-shaming that questions whether a woman “asked” for “it,” police personnel who discourage them from going forward and even threaten them with jail for lying, and the trauma of having to relive a terrible experience most people would rather put behind them. In part because of those obstacles about two-thirds of sexual assaults go unreported to police. 97% of rapists get away scot-free, a higher percentage than for other crimes.

Some women who don’t go to the police think the cops won’t do anything to help. They’re not necessarily wrong.

Any DA will tell you that sexual assaults are tough to prosecute. There is almost never a witness, so things come down to “he said/she said,” with two people giving differing versions of the same event. No one wants to see innocent men convicted of rape or sexual assault on the word of one person, the accuser.

The problem is, the legal system makes filing charges so daunting that the court system never gets a chance to adjudicate many cases. The accused are entitled due process and the presumption of innocence. But accusers deserve access to the courts.

Many #MeToo cases involve sexual harassment, where the only legal redress available is filing a civil lawsuit. There too the hurdles are close to insurmountable for all but the most determined and/or deep-pocketed of plaintiffs, beginning with the simple problem that few lawyers take such cases on a contingency and ending with the inherent challenge of proving that the acts happened in the first place. On the other hand, there’s zero barrier to entry on Twitter.

This is not to say there aren’t false accusations, or at least accusations that don’t rise to the level of reliability necessary for a conviction. The Columbia University “mattress” case and the University of Virginia/Rolling Stone fiasco come to mind here. Though some #MeToo activists urge us to “believe all women,” granting automatic credibility to any demographic or social category defies common sense.

What is necessary is for the authorities not to automatically believe every accusation, but to take accusers seriously and treat them with respect. Until that happens, those seeking justice for sex crimes will continue to make do with the clumsy, imperfect and startlingly extrajudicial process of cultural and professional shunning embodied by #MeToo.

More articles by:

Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower.

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail