The #MeToo movement has gained significant momentum since going viral in October 2017. With millions of shares over multiple social media platforms worldwide, many survivors of sexual abuse and harassment have worked up the courage to publicly confront their abusers, even highlighting scandals among a very high profile crowd.
However, with every movement aimed to inspire strength comes a cloud of critics and individuals who seek to take advantage, both causing harm to a worthwhile cause. The media has been fairly successful in headlining the positive outcomes of the #MeToo movement, but some believe both the positive and the negative sides of the matter are not being represented equally.
THE POSITIVE: Giving Survivors a Voice
For the women who have suffered unconscionable acts of sexual abuse and harassment, the #MeToo movement has served as a beacon of hope. The more women who speak out about their stories, the greater the chance that other survivors will find the confidence to come forward as well. But speaking out is not as simple as the media portrays, and not all survivors, even those who have endured horrific events, receive the justice they deserve.
Coming forward about sexual abuse is gut-wrenching and terrifying. Survivors could be physically close to their abusers, either by location or even within the family. Some survivors face serious blowback from coming forward if their abusers have a larger support network with the ability to threaten and belittle the survivor into giving up their fight.
For these women especially, the #MeToo movement provides an outside network where survivors can seek support in facing these tough situations. They can find local groups who have been through the process of legally charging their abusers or are willing to help them stand up against the challenges they are facing ahead. It provides a population of women, who may have little to no supports, access to millions of individuals who celebrate their brave decision to say something- a definite positive aspect of the movement.
THE NEGATIVE: Wrongfully Accused and Survivor Shamers
For men who have conducted unforgivable acts of sexual abuse and misconduct, #MeToo has helped bring their actions to light. But unintentionally, the movement has also allowed a platform for individuals looking to take advantage of the opportunity to drag the names of wrongfully accused men through the mud.
Social media is known for its instant feedback and lightning fast spread of information. It is one of the reasons why the #MeToo movement has been so incredibly successful. Unfortunately, it has also made it too easy to accuse any individual publicly without allowing them a chance to respond before going viral, regardless of whether the information is true or not.
In reality, false accusations of rape and sexual abuse exist and there are cases in which legitimate false charges have been discovered. But when these cases do arise, what is often overlooked is the significant impact publicly publishing false accusations of sexual abuse and harassment can have on someone’s life. In a time where social media rules our world, wrongfully accused individuals can sustain a damaged reputation in an instant, even when proven innocent.
A secondary effect of false accusations is the negative impact they pose on the claims of genuine survivors. When cases of false accusations are exposed, this opens a door for survivor shamers. These individuals and groups relish in the idea that movements such as #MeToo are harmful. They publicize false claims to devalue accusations made by genuine survivors coming forward, allowing for critics to use these examples to shame survivors in attempts to discredit their claims.
DEFAMATION LAWS: Who They Help
As Americans, we have the right to free speech…to an extent. You can state a negative opinion about a person, but what you cannot do is make false claims about someone’s character to smudge their good name. In these cases, justice may be served under the defamation law, and it can apply to both of the parties described above.
Defamation laws can be difficult to decipher from generally ‘rude’ comments. They apply to specific situations and must hit the following points to be successful in court:
- The defendants must make a statement
- The statement must be published and made public
- The statement must cause injury
- The statement must be false, and
- The statement must not fall into a privileged category
If an abuser publicly states a survivor is a liar after denying accusations of sexual abuse, the victim may have cause to sue for defamation.
Similar, if an individual has been wrongfully accused of sexual abuse, and false claims have been circulating the web, they may also have a case to sue under the defamation law for intentional damage to their reputation.
#MeToo should be complimented for exposing predators and offenders who have used their position of power for personal gain, but that doesn’t mean the accused doesn’t have a right to a fair trial.