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WHEN DOES “ME TOO” GO TOO FAR?

By Walker G. Harman, Jr.

Contrary to popular belief, the Me Too movement is not so new.  Beginning nearly 15 years ago, it was established to “help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing.”  The original founders had a vision to address both the “dearth in resources” for survivors of sexual  violence” (emphasis added) and to “build a community” of advocates, politicians, lawyers, social workers and others to develop a grassroots approach to addressing and redressing sexual violence at its core.

Now, over a decade later, with many celebrities spear-heading the movement, thousands upon thousands of woman (and even some men) have come forward to say Me Too.  So, what does Me Too actually mean?  It seems via popular sentiment that the utterance of  Me Too signifies that the speaker is also a survivor or a victim of sexual violence.  However, sexual violence is generally associated with illegal conduct (both civil and criminal), such as rape, molestation, offensive touching, sexual harassment, and other vile and abhorrent conduct.  That is, the underlying conduct with a claim of sexual violence is so intrusive and offensive, that it gave rise to criminal and/or civil liability.  Keeping with the movement’s original intent and to this day, the official organizers of the Me Too movement describe the purpose as “helping those who need it to find entry points for individual healing and galvanizing a broad base of survivors to disrupt the systems that allow for the global proliferation of sexual violence.”

Over the years since the movement’s inception, though, a shift has taken place.  And, since 2016, the Me Too association has been used to redress issues other than sexual violence, such as instances where individuals in purported positions of power are alleged to have used that power to gain favors which might be sexual in nature but which do not amount to sexual violence.  Examples of this imbalance power dynamic occur amongst teachers, professors, bosses, police officers, politicians, coaches, doctors, directors, casting agents and others in the entertainment industry.

This power imbalance is most evident in the entertainment industry where thousands of women with a platform and audience have come forward to acknowledge that they too were victims of inappropriate conduct.  Yet, few recent Me Too accusations, especially those that have proliferated in the media, have been associated with a crime or civil penalties.  This fact in no way undermines the monsters of the entertainment industry who have committed repeated and egregious acts of sexual abuse that should not go unpunished.  On the other hand, the assertion of Me Too does not and should not connote or confirm that the speaker is, or believes herself to be, the victim of sexual violence.  A limited definition—specifically one that conflates or confuses claims of sexual conduct with sexual assault, or one that is limited to sexual assault only—is not how Me Too is used today.  Me Too now is clearly used to refer to a broad range of conduct, both legal and illegal, at present, it has become clear that some have employed the term for means other than its intended use.

For example, while the suggestion might be controversial, it is possible that the assertion of Me Too can be used more as self-promotion and less as a way to call attention to unwanted sexual advances or violence.  The dishonest or misguided assertion of Me Too is dangerous, as it could result in ruining the accused’s career, relationship and life and, to some extent more importantly, could undermine those who have legitimate claims of unwanted sexual conduct.  The moral of the story for the Me Too assertion is to be complete, accurate, and honest.

Few would dispute that the Me Too movement is powerfully important and necessary to move this country forward to protect women and to ameliorate instances of sexual violence.  The broad use of Me Too—one that covers behavior that is not illegal—however, creates unique challenges for our culture going forward.  When behavior is not patently illegal, the inquiry into the facts of a particular situation becomes even more critical, as the mere assertion of Me Too now cannot automatically amount to a wholesale condemnation of the accused.  The moral underpinnings of due process are just as relevant today as ever and, while we champion those who come forward with their stories of sexual violence and unwanted sexual conduct, a thorough factual investigation should be completed before any individual is saddled with the label of sexual predator, a label—whether justified or not—that can destroy a person’s career and personal life.

If you feel you have been the victim of unwanted sexual conduct or you believe you have been falsely accused of engaging in unwanted sexual conduct, please conduct The Harman Firm, LLP.

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