The #MeToo movement has provided a long overdue platform to hold perpetrators of sexual violence towards women accountable. We have seen powerful men taken down to face their day in court and answer for their actions. This movement has swept through movies, sports, music, financial institutions, and the highest appointments and offices in our land. Victims have found empowerment and a voice and support which carries them from social media to protests and boycotts and finally, to the courtroom. This is undeniably a victory for victims and for our justice system that we rightfully celebrate. We should believe women, because so many were silenced or ignored by that justice system for so long.
But, as the parent of a young son, I am simultaneously horrified by the shadow side of #MeToo that doesn’t get discussed – the collateral damage that can occur as the result of a false allegation. What does it mean for us to seek justice and then not uphold the very principle which we all expect to be afforded — being presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? At what point does our strength in numbers of voices not carry through to all miscarriages of justice?
With the #MeToo movement there is a swift action plan to ensure that the public knows their stance on supporting women, but where is the action to support people who have had their livelihoods affected by lies? An actor or an athlete or a CEO is marred by an allegation that is later proven false, and the media never cleans up the mess with any retractions or follow-up articles. Apologies are never issued by the accusers or the companies and promoters who rush to judgement to deny the accused the right to perform or do their jobs. Legally, the accused is free and clear. Reputationally and career-wise, they are ruined.
All of this goes deeper than the person who is accused.
False allegations by people with bad intentions also affects actual victims of abuse and assault who have historically had their narratives challenged and calls into question the legitimacy of the stories of the people who deserve to be heard and believed.
The movement is damaging victims and reducing its efficacy by not addressing their commitment to comprehensive justice. It is precisely because of these false allegations going uncorrected that Christine Blasey Ford was dismissed so quickly by so many. Regardless of your party allegiances, she deserved to be heard and believed and for a full investigation to be conducted before being branded a liar.
Most recently, on July 7th, the musician, Diplo, born Thomas Wesley Pentz, was accused by an anonymous woman of sexual assault. This woman was friends with one of Diplo’s ex-girlfriends who has been stalking and harassing Diplo and his family with her own accusations to the point that Diplo sought and obtained a restraining order from the ex-girlfriend. When the anonymous friend came forward with a lawsuit, her voice was heard and rightly so. Because of the public pressure created by social media mobs with no connection to the true facts in the case, the Baltimore Orioles canceled what was to be a stadium performance by Diplo on July 24th. They made the announcement on the 9th of July, in a show of solidarity for women and were celebrated in the media and in dozens of social media posts.
On July 16th, after Diplo’s team showed irrefutable evidence that the claims were false to the anonymous accuser’s legal team, the woman voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit and stated that she regretted having filed the complaint. Here is her entire statement through her attorney:
“In light of the evidence and after consultation with my attorneys, I have decided to withdraw my lawsuit,” the woman, only identified by her initials, said through her attorney, Joe Ortuno. “No payment was offered or requested. I regret filing the lawsuit.”
In response, Diplo’s attorney, Bryan Freedman, issued this statement:
“As we said when we first learned of this lawsuit, there was absolutely irrefutable evidence that proved that the allegations it contained were false. As soon as we shared that plethora of evidence with the plaintiff’s lawyers, they recognized that they needed to withdraw their suit immediately. This demonstrably false claim – encouraged by an individual who has stalked, threatened, harassed and attempted to extort Mr. Pentz and his family – has caused great harm. While that damage can never fully be undone, we are glad to see this lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice. Only because of the swift and irreversible decision to withdraw this lawsuit and to issue a public statement retracting the claims and expressing regret, we will not be pursuing charges of malicious prosecution against them at this time.”
Mr. Freedman is correct. Not only did it cause harm to Diplo and his career and public sentiment, but it has also inadvertently given rape apologists further claim to dismiss true victim’s accounts.
In this one isolated case, Diplo was spared a lengthy trial and reputational lynching, because he could prove the facts were on his side, but so often, the words of a false accuser are all it takes to destroy an innocent person’s life and livelihood.
Where is the justice for the accused if the media and social media fall short in rectifying the damages?
Social media crowds have not demanded that any apologies be issued or given any apologies for harm done to the movement or the artist.
After their knee-jerk reaction to a lawsuit from an anonymous accuser that lasted less than ten days, the Baltimore Orioles certainly have not made any amends to welcome Diplo back in light of his name being cleared.
Some say that cancel culture never really “cancels” anyone, but try telling that to the artists and business and civic leaders who have lost not only hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in some cases but also the trust of the public and their fans who are mostly left to wonder what really happened when the glaring spotlight of tabloid journalists and social media moves away from one false accuser to the next, and the real story is never told.