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#MeToo brings tide change to American society

Prosecutors saddled with legal difficulties in making accusations stick

#MeToo brings tide change to American society Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein

By Michael Hernandez


It began with accusations against one of Hollywood’s most powerful titans of cinema in early October.

After felling Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo movement has brought down dozens of powerful men in entertainment, media, tech and politics over accusations of sexual impropriety.

“We’ve reached a tipping point for secrecy,” remarked Marci Hamilton, the Fox Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. “The victims now feel sufficiently supported by the culture to come forward.”

Tarana Burke, who founded #MeToo more than a decade before it gained widespread traction, ​has said she wants to see the campaign be far more than a short-lived viral episode. Such fears appear unfounded.

Since Weinstein’s downfall propelled #MeToo to the national spotlight it has shown no sign of slowing down.

So influential has the movement become that Time magazine labeled the predominantly female group of accusers its Person of the Year.

The “Silence Breakers”, as Time dubbed them, “have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced”.

The "SIlence Breakers" include Hollywood names including Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Salma Hayek. On the other side, however, Hollywood's ranks have taken major blows with ultimately terminating accusations being levied against Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and director James Toback.

And it hasn’t stopped there. The fast-moving, powerful movement has reached the highest office in the land as President Donald Trump finds himself in the midst of a staggering number of claims.

Trump has adamantly denied any impropriety but has relished in the downfall of politicians at odds with his agenda, particularly Democratic Senator Al Franken, while defending his partisans.

“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words,” he wrote on Twitter as the Minnesota lawmaker faced mounting charges that ultimately led to his resignation.

Trump later endorsed Roy Moore’s ultimately futile Republican run for the Senate despite a chorus of accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge, including some that alleged abuse of minors.

“President Trump's endorsement of credibly alleged child molester Roy Moore is on the wrong side of history,” said Hamilton who has been specializing on child sex abuse issues for more than 20 years. “It's too late to keep the women who have suffered child sex abuse, sex assault, or harassment silent.”

But as he chooses to ignore or embrace the accused along party lines, Trump is far from being in the clear.

Three women came forward earlier this week re-alleging impropriety by the American chief executive. They are not alone.

Trump now faces a litany of accusations spanning four decades from nearly 20 women.

The three who came forward Monday have demanded Congress officially investigate their claims. And, so far, their request has garnered the support of nearly 60 Democratic congresswomen who are seeking a probe from the House Oversight Committee, citing among other things, Trump’s own vulgar remarks about grabbing women by their genitalia without their consent.

Due to his station, Trump faces an altogether unique process -- should it move forward, but for the dozens of others who may face prosecution as a result of #MeToo, the deck is stacked in their favor, said Hamilton, who is also the CEO of Child USA, a non-profit fighting child sex abuse.

Getting accusations to stick is “very, very hard”, Hamilton said.

“It is very hard for any of these prosecutions to go forward because the prosecutor must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and that’s the strongest standard in all of the law,” she said.

In addition to the very high burden of proof for prosecutors, there is seldom a third-party eyewitness in cases of sexual misconduct, which makes overcoming doubts about the charges that much more difficult.

Outside of the courtroom, however, questions have mounted about the effects the #MeToo movement is having on the American public’s acceptance of the presumption of innocence, a key western legal tenet.

“Although people refer to #MeToo as a progressive movement, it is starting to look like an exercise in public shaming, a rash extrajudicial application of stigma to supposedly wicked individuals,” columnist Brendan O’Neil wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

“Of course, we all have our private thoughts on the guilt or otherwise of the accused. But when tens of thousands of these thoughts come together in a mass public verdict, we behave like a mob. And we have a direct effect on the exercise of the presumption of innocence in a legal setting,” added O’Neil.

Such concerns are unwarranted, said Hamilton.

“I don’t think that’s what’s happening,” she said.

“In fact, people are using common sense to conclude whether or not something likely happened. When you have multiple victims coming forward and they’re lining up, the likelihood that its true goes up astronomically. These are claims that people do not make up,” she added.

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