Me Too or Too Far?

The MeToo movement was not created to replace the justice system in this country. However, recent cases shed light on just how far this movement has gone, and the dangerous path ahead if we let it continue.


The MeToo movement was started to empower women who were victims of abuse, however, recently the questioned must be asked of whether the movement has gone too far. Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

  The United States is a society where we have a system of justice we all live under. That system, when not muddied, guarantees a perfect balance for all defendants and plaintiffs. Recently we have seen the media and court of public opinion take over, which creates an environment where people are stripped of their rights. 

   In recent years The MeToo movement has gained attention, in particular as the result of multiple women coming out to tell their stories of abuse at the hands of former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The movement was started in 2006 by Tarana Burke, who was a sexual assault survivor herself. The movement was meant to empower women, specifically those of color and young girls, to speak up and tell their  horrific, but indeed brave stories of abuse.

   For far too long, too many women have been forced to remain silent and cower in the shadows of their abusers out of fear of retaliation should they come forward with the truth. We have seen cases brought against the likes of actors Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, and Johnny Depp, Producer Harvey Weinstein,  Today Show host Matt Lauer, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell,The United Kingdom’s Prince Andrew, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and both our former President Trump and current President Biden. Women’s voices and opinions should be heard and recognized, but they should not automatically be taken as fact. Just as women should speak up, and be heard, the justice system needs to speak to. The work of the MeToo movement should not be diminished nor silenced in any way. However, we must not let it completely take over and overshadow the court of law. 

   Every person charged with a crime, no matter what it might be, deserves a fair trial. This is a right enshrined in our Constitution, and it is how we can guarantee that justice in its best form can be served. When we let movements, and other outside noise take over the law, it can open us up to a dangerous territory, one in which we may have innocent people found guilty, and guilty people found innocent. Perhaps the most prominent example of trial by media is the Duke Lacrosse team scandal. 

   Sensational indeed, people were all too quick to presume the guilt of the three young men accused of rape in the case. The case was flooded with inconsistencies, and multiple forms of government misconduct, and ended with all three men being found not guilty, and later receiving 20 million dollars from Duke University. The second any allegation is levied against anyone, the press almost instantly turns a blind eye to the fact that those accused have a right to a trial and a right to confront their accusers in court. By the time most of these trials commenced, it is as if there had already been a trial with the accused convicted. 

On the other hand, it has put many cases in jeopardy of being overturned, leaving victims who fought hard for justice with the fright that what they had for so many years fought for, will be taken away from them. Perhaps most recently this can be seen in the case of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who was accused of allegedly aiding in Jeffery Epstein’s abuse of young women. In this case a jury member who identified himself as “Scotty David” came out after the trial and spoke of how his verdict was “for all the victims,” meaning those who were not even part of the indictment, and how he used his own personal experience as an alleged sexual assault survivor-something he failed to notify the court of during jury selection-to help the jury come to a conviction. This juror’s revelation negatively impacted both sides. For the alleged victims it puts the conviction in jeopardy, and might mean they may have to redo all they had done at a new trial, as this is an issue she plans to raise on appeal. For the defense, it almost definitely means that there was not a fair trial, as there are doubts about this juror’s reliability, and ability to truly be fair and impartial.

   In the case of Harvey Weinstein, the outcome could almost have been foreseen. Despite harrowing testimony that would indeed aid in the government conviction, one would have been dumb to think that Weinstein was in anyway innocent even before the trial had started. It was not until the trial took place the media narratives began to shift, and reports had questioned whether or not he would be acquitted. The jury of course came back with a guilty verdict on two of the five counts. Weinstein’s lead attorney, Donna Rotunno who was dubbed a “legal rottweiler,” questioned whether there could have been a truly impartial verdict considering the outside noise. 

   “The pressure on the jury made them look at this case and not worry about the lack of evidence…what I found most interesting was as the jurors were walking out they didn’t look at Harvey, they didn’t look at the prosecutors, they looked at the press and that really told me a lot,” Rotunno said per a PBS NewsHour interview. 

   For the record, there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that Harvey Weinstein is not a model citizen, indeed his actions are not deserving of sympathy. But just because we have an unlikable defendant before us does not mean that we should not make sure their rights are preserved. In many of these cases, especially the high profile ones, the stories are told in a vacuum. The first time the full picture is really able to be brought to light is during the trial. Unfortunately by then so much has been written on these cases that the trial becomes an afterthought. 

   One needs to look no further than the very public vilification of Britain’s Prince Andrew. Prince Andrew was accused by Virginia Roberts Guffrie of having a sexual encounter with at the time underage Guffrie. The two in the end finally came to a settlement that did not include Prince Andrew making an admission of guilt. However, there is little likeliness that he could ever go back to public life. This vilification came even before any official case had been launched against him, and there has yet to be any indication that he will be criminally charged. 

   Some of the most recent allegations to come out have involved Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard, as well as Angelina Jolie and her ex-husband Brad Pitt. In both cases, the women have claimed numerous forms of abuse. In Heard’s case she testified to numerous instances in which she alleges that Depp had brutally sexually assaulted her. In the case of Angelina Jolie, she has made claims of physical abuse of her and her children at the hands of Brad Pitt. Just as this kind of banter trashing one side was dangerous in the previous cases I have mentioned, it remains just as dangerous here. Hashtags such as “Justice for Johnny Depp”, and “Amber Heard is an abuser” cycled through the media. During the trial Johnny Depp fans lined the streets outside of the Fairfax County, Virginia, courthouse where the showdown occurred. Beyond that the entire trial was televised for millions to watch, and some 100 people were allowed in the courtroom each day of the trial.

   This is particularly  important to note as it marked the first time an alleged sexual abuse survivor had testified before a live camera feed. In most cases there are strict rules surrounding the testimony of witnesses testifying as sexual abuse survivor, which include not allowing the courtroom sketch artists to sketch their faces, and allowing purported victims to use pseudonyms. Heard’s defeat in the end could not have been any more predictable. The Depp case has probably been one of the biggest steps back in the era of MeToo, and we must not any longer let these matters become trivialized.

   No matter what the case is about, you cannot just walk into a courtroom and tell your version of events without any form of questioning from the other side. If that were the case, that would put us all in jeopardy. We must come back to our roots in this country, and remember that there is not a presumption that someone is telling the truth, but rather a presumption of innocence that must be guaranteed to the accused. It would do a true disservice to everyone in this country if we let this happen, and it would also set us back far if we do not let women’s voices be heard. Simply put, and despite how difficult it may be, we need to strike the perfect balance.