TRUE OPINION: With ever more women openly discussing their experiences of sexual harassment, assault and rape at the alleged hands of powerful men, should we devote much time for the small number of males who may have been potentially wrongly accused? Our new True Crime News Weekly columnist and lawyer, Miles Hunt, wonders what side of history we really want to be on.
A few days ago, I was out to dinner with some friends and the #MeToo Movement came up in our discussions. One mate, a man, suggested that it had all gone way too far: it was potentially ruining peoples lives and there was no way of testing the evidence. Basically, there were some women out there ruining it for everyone by seeking vengeance through accusations of sexual harassment, using a time when it had become socially acceptable to do so, and the consequences for the accused were significant – at least a lot more painful than in the past when such accusations were hidden away in cupboards of boardrooms or under the carpets of plush hotels.
Another friend that was at the table, asked for an example. He wanted to know if the comment was fear based, a resistance to change, or were there genuine examples of innocent men whose lives had been set into ruin by vengeful women. He mentioned some bloke in the Mid-West of the USA who was put through the ringer by a girl he’d recently spurned.
I don’t know the veracity of this story, but there is no doubt that this sort of thing happens. There are always going to be examples of bad people doing bad things and mad people doing mad things, and there is nothing quite like a scorned heart to create the atmosphere for spite and anger. I never felt so low in my life as when a woman I liked didn’t like me back – the pain of unrequited love – and my reaction was sadness, madness, and even vomiting, but I can see how the feeling may inspire some to hatred or retribution.
The history of human interactions are filled with lies and deceit. It is as much a part of us as the good – the love, the beauty and creativity. Of course, in workplaces and beyond, there would be cases of women wrongfully accusing innocent men of sexual harassment. I know of a man and his business partner that were both accused of sexual harassment by the same employee. She had just started the job. Stupidly she accused them both, in a place where a dozen other women worked happily for two good men. It didn’t stack up and when they took the matter to the police she absconded. It turns out she had a history of it.
But does one bad egg ruin the dozen? Surely, we must accept a few innocent men wrongly accused as part of the wider movement. There are so many women that have come out since the Harvey Weinstein saga, telling their own stories of sexual harassment – in the workplace and at bars and social events. Work Christmas parties seemed to get a good run too. While the heat has also been turned up on a variety of politicians in Australia, including Liberal party heavyweight Robert Doyle, as well as the country’s now-former deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce.
My Facebook feed was covered with women, both known and unknown, adding their own tales of woe to a growing ball of thread that got so big it seemed like Gulliver amongst the Lilliputians. And if that ball was pushed down the street collecting cases of sexual molestations on the way down, taking them in to save the souls from whence they came, but inadvertently squashing a few men crossing that same road – men unfortunately standing in the wrong place at the wrong time – would it be fair to say that they were collateral damage to a higher cause?
Those that died in the French Revolution or the American War of Independence are seen as martyrs for a great cause. Their deaths as part of something bigger. In Iraq hundreds of thousands died in an unjust war. And our leaders proclaimed that it was a necessary fight, leaders that almost universally won re-election. In Syria it is close to 400,000 civilians that have died as countries fight to control strategic land. It’s not fair to compare these horrible war-related deaths to anything, but I don’t see my friend up in arms about it. He should be yelling from the rooftops about every death, every family sheltered and shaking in their homes wondering if this night will be their last.
With the #MeToo Movement, we have many women coming out for the first time and openly discussing tales of sexual harassment and exploitation, often by powerful men using that power to gain sexual favours from the meek. I would guess that slave owners in America forced their slaves into sex as well, and it is common with the landowners and kings of feudal times and cult leaders of today. It is part of human history – the powerful using their wealth and land and soldiers to solidify their gains and fuck the women they came across. As the Nazis strode across Eastern Europe and into Russia there were tales of soldiers raping the female civilians in the towns along the way, and as the Soviets rode back into Germany a few years later there was more tales of rape – an eye for an eye they probably said … All’s fair in love and war.
Well, in modern capitalist societies the power imbalance comes most often in the workplace where Managers and the CEO can laud it over their employees if they choose. Where secretaries, often women, work for Managers, often men, and are directed all day long to tasks of servitude. Why not one more? Some harmless flirting, a kiss, a grope or even a request for sex from a manager not getting any at home. What would you do?
In Hollywood the actresses came out in one force describing the power imbalance in their industry, of producers with control of their careers forcing themselves on young helpless women desperate for work in a highly competitive industry. In Hollywood, the Weinsteins of the world had the power to make or break careers. The actresses that stood up and spoke out were the Rebel Alliance fighting back. In most workplaces this is not the case. A boss doesn’t have hold of an entire career, can’t make a few phone calls and make someone unemployable, but a job is a job, and for most people it is hard to go out and find a new one, especially with the dark cloud of a sexual predator hanging overhead. And what is their choice? Take the sexual advancements, roll with it, ignore them, mark them off as flattery or walk away, leave behind the job and find a new one – perhaps it is not such an easy choice – with living costs and mortgages and kids.
I know from my experiences working as a lawyer, acting for women with sexual harassment or bullying complaints or those that have filed worker’s compensation claims due to the continued harassment which has turned them into a mess and sent them desperately to the psychologist and to a lawyer – it is not an easy road. These victims are brave enough to stand up and say no more, yet many are put through years of hell as they fight for their rights: Having to prove their cases, waiting for months and months with no money as the evidence is put together – statements, doctors reports and copies of emails and text messages. Getting more and more desperate as their savings dwindle, and they begin to wonder if it is all worth it. And then at the end of it all, most don’t get much in the way of compensation. Worker’s Compensation gives them a percentage of their wages for the period they are off work, but it is limited to a couple of years. And they may have their psychologist or counseling covered, but that is about all. And there is definitely stigma attached to bringing a claim.
Harder still, is a claim of sexual harassment through the Human Rights Commission. There is not a single lawyer covered by Workcover and most won’t act unless it’s a guaranteed winner. Then it takes three years to go through the tribunal and court – the turtle and snail fight it out to take the longest – and then finally when they are ready to give it up, there is a two week hearing where every part of their life is called into question, attacked and ridiculed. By that time, mostly they are a mess. Barely a scrap of the person they once were.
When they first sit with me in conference, I ask, “Have you thought about quitting?” and many say, “Why should I quit? I didn’t do anything wrong. He should face the consequences.” And they are right, but then the men behind it rarely do. Human Resources brush it under the carpet. It is all too hard. The accused might get a slap on the wrist but mostly they keep their jobs and it is the victim that pays the heavy price.
“Maybe it would be better if you just look for another job,” I sadly suggest, as I know that this is not justice, but I can see before me, like a trail of future destruction, all those troubles and struggles that my other clients have had to go through to get their justice. What is justice anyway? There is no justice in these situations: Walking away a few years later with a couple years of salary, and those same years wasted on anti-depressants, seeing a psychologist every week, your relationships in tatters, friends that don’t bother to see you anymore, sadness in your being that was never there before, a hole in your resume as big as the San Andreas Fault. And the boss that felt you up at the Christmas party or sent semi-naked photos or steamy messages professing his monstrous desire is still at the company, making his weekly wage and bonuses, and the company has forgotten all about you – you are just a name they talk about in degraded tones.
It’s not justice. The best they get is money and it is very rarely worth the trouble. Better off for so many to hide it away, take it deeply to the soul and deal with it there; keep a strong face and pretend it never happened.
This is why #MeToo is so important. This is why a bit of collateral damage is acceptable. Yes the odd man may be wrongly accused and this may have wide reaching implications on that man’s life, but there are so many more women who have never had the chance to come out and deal with sexual harassment, and this is their chance. You got to break a few eggs to make an omelette as they say. So to those men caught up and squashed by the giant ball of twine as it makes it way down that steep descent, I’m sorry. It is tough luck, I guess. A real tragedy, like the many millions of catastrophic and appalling cases of sexual harassment and assault and abuses of power that have gone on for thousands of years, all over the world, and for which nothing was done.