Some time ago, I presented my interrogations concerning #MeToo here. I expressed my fear of seeing this movement become a trial by the people and my hope that it would trigger legal and judiciary changes, which are, in my opinion, the only tools that can really change mindsets in the long run.
Although we’ve only got a few months of hindsight, I find the end result to be extremely mixed.
I am using only mediatized cases as material for my reflexion.
Even if justice is performing its duty correctly concerning a handful of men accused of sexual abuse, many mediatized cases are becoming popular trials. On the basis of a mere accusation published by the media, often without any complaint being filed, some men are publicly pilloried.
For a lawyer, this is deeply disturbing. Disturbing because such a treatment by the media and the people violates the principle of being “innocent until proven guilty”. So long as a person has not been condemned by a court, they must be considered innocent.
Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not challenging the validity of the accusations made by women whose voices were mediatized.
I am simply referring to the treatment of these voices by the media.
Firstly, I regret how widely such accusations were broadcasted when they weren’t supported by judiciary procedures, such as complaints. I obviously make an exception for lapsed cases which cannot give way to complaints and trials: in this case I understand that the media may be the only way to reclaim a story and pursue justice.
Secondly, I regret the way they chose to treat these accusations. When such allegations are made available to the media, how can the latter not have the common sense, the ethical consciousness and the moral principles to constantly remind the reader that the accused remains innocent until proven guilty when they publish them?
Nowadays, the impact of the media is so strong that its amateur manipulation of such sensitive, serious matters makes them look like fledgling magicians on a power-high (and in a race for more audience). Matters such as sexual abuse should never be treated so lightly.
Finally, in the new stage of media games that #MeToo and Time’s Up have unfortunately become, the confusion and inefficiency are only too obvious, even to the average person. Both movements are endangered by this.
When it comes to inequity, you might notice that the men who are incriminated in a split second and shunned by society are those who no longer have power, influence, or, in a nutshell, any capability to fight back.
Harvey Weinstein or the photographer Terry Richardson were publicly disavowed by the spheres of cinema and fashion because they are no longer as powerful as they once were (careers coming to an end, less contracts, diminishing influence, etc…). It was not the case just a few years ago, even though everyone agrees on the fact that their abusive attitudes were already public knowledge.
The fact that companies and investors fire a president or a collaborator on the sole basis of commercial, financial, or advertising opportunities and not because of moral principles, justice and fairness is pure hypocrisy.
The fact that the incredibly powerful press group Condé Nast International only forbade its publications Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Glamour and Wired from working with Terry Richardson in October 2017, just as #MeToo was taking off, when his attitude had been complained about for years, is pure hypocrisy.
Once again, I am not questioning the soundness of the accusations but rather their treatment, which appears to lack even the slightest trace of morality.
An opposite example is that of Ryan Seacrest, who was recently accused of sexual abuse.
Ryan Seacrest is an American host and producer, whose career is thriving (perhaps because he produces Keeping up with the Kardashians, which already makes him guilty of one atrocity).
His once-stylist accused him of sexual harassment but the investigation that followed argued that he couldn’t be blamed for anything.
The situation got tricky in February 2018, when it was announced that he would be interviewing the Oscar’s guests on the red carpet.
Who would answer his questions? Who would ignore him? These were the questions that shook Twitter and Hollywood, as everyone scrambled to share their opinion on the matter, some even going so far as to ask E! – his employer – to remove him from the Oscar’s ceremony altogether.
Finally, the ceremony took place: a sheepish Ryan Seacrest received but very few interviews and Kobe Bryant got an Academy Award for the Best Animated Short Movie.
The irony could not have been any greater.
A shining star of basketball in the noughties, Kobe Bryant was accused of rape by a young woman working in a hotel he’d visited in 2003. She filed a complaint and the case was soon hyper-mediatized. The defense was so good (from a technical point of view, not a moral one) that the identity of the woman, as well as her picture was leaked to the press. Everything was leaked – her “incriminating” sexual past, her suicide attempts, her depressions, everything.
The young woman was harassed, denigrated, insulted. She received death threats and eventually moved and withdrew her complaint.
Did the 2018 Oscars ceremony respect the “innocent until proven guilty” principle? Yes and no.
The sportsman was not found guilty and is thus, judicially speaking, innocent.
However, in my opinion his innocence was not proven through a trial but because the accuser had to withdraw her complaint, faced with unbearable mediatic pressure.
She withdrew her complaint even though she left his room with blood on her clothes, even though he also had blood on his clothes, that she immediately went to tell the hotel’s concierge what had happened and that the medical investigations found genital wounds.
She withdrew her complaint even though Kobe Bryant recognized having had intercourse with her that night. But he believed it was fully consensual.
At the time, a young woman anonymously explained to a journalist that she had also been raped by Kobe Bryant but that she refused to file a complaint after witnessing how the press treated the last woman to do that. Following this affair, the number of complaints from individuals at the accuser’s university dropped drastically. Coincidence?
Perhaps Kobe Bryant was never found guilty but not for the right reasons in my opinion. No one seemed fazed by his victory at the 2018 Academy Awards, whilst everyone or almost was sporting a Time’s Up pin.
Call this double standards.
It is now time for the legislative machine to start moving forward.
It is now time for women who have suffered from sexual abuse to have full access to their judiciary voice.
It is now time for people to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
It is now time for third parties who have no substantial information to add to the debate and yet broadcast opinions no one cares about to remain quiet so that we may hear the voices which matter most: victims and accused, justice and law.
In ancient times, the experts had the keys to knowledge and the people listened. Nowadays, everyone feels like an expert and no one listens to anyone but themselves. It is impossible to listen when social media makes it so much easier to insult, vilify anyone and rant about anything, even if one knows nothing.
Welcome to a new form of harassment: the tyranny of democracy. The witches hunt 2.0 may begin.
And in the meantime, women are howling in pain, trapped in their silence.
In the meantime, men are publicly vilified or unanimously celebrated, it depends on who we’re talking about.
What a mess.
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