#MeToo, #YouToo, let’s do due process

Rio Popper, Copy Editor

The #MeToo movement started with courage, honesty and a legitimate desire to justly address past wrongs. Now, though, an undercurrent of recklessness threatens the movement. Confidence in the movement’s honesty is central to its success, and that confidence is being eroded by shaky accusations. People have a right—and sometimes an obligation—to speak out about wrongs they have suffered, but that does not imply an additional right to whip up a frenzy that generates its own victims.

One of the victims of the frenzy is former Kentucky legislator Dan Johnson, who committed suicide after an accusation that he molested a teenage girl was made public. He refuted the claim; then, after an outcry demanding his resignation, he parked by a quiet, out-of-the-way bridge and shot himself in the head. While we do not know if the accusation is true, we do know Johnson lost his life.

And it isn’t just one life lost or one shaky accusation made. Though many of the accused are likely guilty, some are not. False accusations arise from a variety of motivations—from revenge to regret—and we must remain aware of the damage that these accusations can cause innocent people. In the case of falsely accused musician and gay-rights activist Sir Elton John, the accuser’s motivation was monetary gain—he expected John would settle rather than fight the accusation. According to a study cited by the Obama administration, independent scholarly reviews of police records indicate that up to 10 percent of sexual harassment accusations are false. That number is sobering, and is one that #MeToo must grapple with.

The movement should petition to get sexist laws and policies changed, work to get victims and perpetrators treatment, help victims identify appropriate evidence, and—if sufficient evidence is found—encourage prosecution. And… Yes—it is doing all that, but it is also creating problems that are at odds with its own principle of justice.

A widely-shared Google spreadsheet, ‘Shitty Media Men,’ illustrates one such problem. Started by journalist Moira Donegan, the spreadsheet allows any anonymous poster to record a man’s name and an accusation. Accusations range from brutal rape to ‘flirting’ and ‘being a huge sleaze ball.’ Despite the inherent limitations of relying on a crowd-sourced spreadsheet for evidence, many of the mentioned men have faced serious consequences. Donegan has defended the list, saying it is necessary largely because law-enforcement and Human Resource Departments are obliged to presume innocence. This obligation, Donegan writes, is not okay. Her words exemplify the movement’s most troubling problem: its embrace of McCarthy-esque justice—its willingness to nullify the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’

The movement also sometimes equates violent crimes with virtually harmless in- fractions. A recent letter signed by over 100 prominent French women says it best: “Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression.”

Conflating these profoundly different problems trivializes still-prevalent serious crimes. There is an important line between rape and unsatisfying sex, just as there is an important line between sexual harassment and clumsy flirting. The #MeToo movement should play a role in clarifying those lines; it should not play a role in blurring them.

If the #MeToo movement wants to continue to make positive change, it must be calm and wise. Women have a right to speak up, but men and women both have a right and obligation to thoughtfully evaluate public accusations. None of us should condemn others to jail or social ostracism without evidence. Whether the accusation is of murder, vandalism, rape or harassment, the presumption of innocence in both the court of law and that of public opinion is a precious thing. The #MeToo movement seeks justice, so it must not sacrifice the cornerstone of justice—the presumption of innocence.