#MeToo and Trial by Mob

(Photo: Dragan Zdravkovic/Dreamstime)
Social media is not the right outlet for sexual-assault allegations.

I have been thinking a lot about the #MeToo phenomenon, in which women share their experiences with sexual harassment and assault on social media, and I find myself feeling uneasy about it for several reasons.

First of all, I always fear a mob, whatever side it comes from and whatever the initial purpose and aim. A good idea can become mass hysteria in an instant, and important basic rights and responsibilities can be set aside.

If a person is the victim of a crime, that crime should be reported and the accused should have a right to face his or her accuser. This to avoid a trial-by-mob, and to keep people from losing their jobs and having their reputations ruined by a hashtag rather than proof and due process.

Second, inappropriate comments are not the same thing as groping, which is not the same thing as rape, and I believe those distinctions matter. If we deem them all equally enraging, they will all eventually be dismissed as “hysteria,” and that is a very dangerous development.

Third, before this age of Twitter and hashtags, we grew up having to manage male–female relationships and learn as we went along, and in doing so, many of us had uncomfortable and sometimes humiliating encounters. So long as these experiences did not involve violence or other egregious behavior, they were just part of growing up and learning. These encounters happened to men and women, boys and girls.

As a mother raising boys in this era, one of them a teenager, I now have to have a long talk with them, warning them that they can be accused after the fact, that in any and all situations that start off consensual they can be deemed a culprit, and that it is important to err on the side of caution when it comes to relationships with girls. This pains me, as both boys and girls are missing out on all the giddy excitement of adolescence, the innocent phase before things cross a line, and I am afraid that we have forever erased the line between childhood and adulthood and tainted what was once innocent with our assumption of guilt, abuse, and shame. There are no more gray areas, just black and white, and for that I believe we are all the poorer, as people and as a society.

I guess what I am saying is that I don’t understand what the #MeToo campaign is trying to achieve. To raise awareness about women being sexually harassed? Okay, but what specifically does that mean? Sexual violence? Inappropriate comments? Discomfort? I feel it is too vague to create actual change, and that it is definitely using the wrong forum to put forth a cohesive message.

If sexual harassment is a crime, it should be fought not with hashtags but with the full force of the law. Leaving it to hashtags not only leaves every claim open to doubt and interpretation, but also sends the message that sexual harassment is not a crime but a topic to be debated like any other. Needless to say, the same goes for rape, groping, and all the other examples given on the Internet in these past days.

We should criticize the justice system when it fails, but we must follow due process when it comes to crimes, because if we don’t, everyone will suffer.

Everyone, man or woman, who is the victim of a crime should be encouraged to report it, and should have the full support of our society if they do. We should criticize the justice system when it fails, but we must follow due process when it comes to crimes, because if we don’t, everyone will suffer.

Lastly, as a woman I have felt victimized by men many times, sometimes to the point where it warranted a police report and sometimes in a gray area where I learned an important and worthwhile lesson in a very hard way. That is the honest truth, and I know many men too who have had experiences where they felt victimized and sometimes even abused by the same or opposite sex. But I have never tried these cases in the public domain, because (a) I felt it would minimize and cheapen what is a very intense and intimate subject and (b) because I do not believe any case should be tried in a mob court where the outcome is determined by popularity, political trends, or the waves of public opinion.

I hesitated for two days to write about this topic because, honestly, I was afraid of the backlash. We live in a time where one must take sides or face the consequences and outrage, and there is very little space left for debate and shades of gray. That, in itself, freaks me out. A lot.

I welcome a conversation about sexual violence, but allegations by hashtag do not constitute a conversation. They may actually end up harming the underlying cause.


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