Over the last few weeks, the #MeToo movement has once again become prominent. Notably, the reports have come from the sports world with Olympians sharing their experiences, along with allegations against musician, Marilyn Manson.
Since it began in 2017, the #MeToo Movement has effected real change. It has the power to change both the civil and criminal courts as we know it across the world, as it changes our understanding of collective evidence.
Before discussing this further, it is important to understand the roots of #MeToo.
What is #MeToo?
In October 2017, the movement was instigated by many well-known names using social media as their platform to share their own experiences of sexual assault.
Within the last few weeks, bankruptcy lawyers have now confirmed a settlement for over 50 survivors of film producer, Harvey Weinstein. The settlement has created a fund which will be shared amongst all complainers. It shared a strong message: no matter your notoriety, you should be held accountable for your actions.
It is a movement grounded in solidarity; in that no one is alone in their experience. There was no requirement for the perpetrator to be well-known, or for them to even be named, for someone to share their own story. It is about the recognition to then seek justice and closure.
But, this was just the beginning; the #MeToo inspired the need for change. In the USA, there was a significant increase of reports of sexual assault in the workplace. It also compelled employers across the world to ensure that they had an adequate sexual harassment policy.
#MeToo has resulted in criminal convictions that may not have otherwise been possible. It is a unified movement in ending the stigma around reporting sexual violence.
Similar Fact Evidence
In understanding the message of #MeToo, how does this translate into our legal systems and how can it be used in practice?
Previously, I have discussed how the principle of ‘similar fact’ evidence and the use of the Moorov Doctrine is used in Scotland’s criminal justice system at: Moorov Doctrine.
One of the core principles of #MeToo is encouraging individuals to share their account of their own experience through collective testimony. This is a principle that translates into the law by ‘similar fact evidence’. ‘Similar fact evidence’ can be used when two individuals are assaulted on different occasions but the similarity of the circumstances, such as the same perpetrator, allows the case to be connected. In analysing the similarities, they can become witnesses for one another, without ever meeting each other. This is particularly important in crimes of sexual violence because it can often happen in circumstances where there are no other witnesses. The more evidence there is for criminal investigations, the more likely there is to be a conviction.
#MeToo created an environment in which an unprecedented number of individuals were in a position to disclose. Research has shown that someone is more likely to report their own assault, when they know that they are not alone. In the complaints against Harvey Weinstein, this meant there was a number of complainers that were all able to provide evidence to support one another.
But, why is this important? The short answer to this is that sexual and domestic violence is a crime that continues to rise. It also is one that can happen behind closed doors. In Scotland, the crime recordings for domestic abuse and sexual assault are at an all-time high. In September 2020, the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service reported their statistics for 2019 to 2020. They reported that there were 30,718 charges which related to domestic abuse, along with over 2000 reports of rape and attempted rape.
Despite the high figures, this is likely to only be a small proportion of the real statistics. There is no doubt that there continues to be fear and stigma in reporting crimes of this nature. #MeToo is an attempt to remove both of these factors.
Partially, this is due to the culture of victim blaming; the idea that a male or female has done something to encourage sexual violence. It is more important than ever that the principles of #MeToo breaks the boundaries of social media to encourage more people to report their own assault. In doing so, we would create a no tolerance environment for sexual crimes.
In just a few short years #MeToo has effected real change.
With the settlement of the civil claims for Harvey Weinstein the #MeToo movement has proven that it has the power to make a real difference. The movement allowed for more individuals to find the strength to speak out and through collective testimony, he was able to be convicted. It can only be hoped that the principles and compensation model continue to be used for other survivors of abuse.
Only time will tell if the #MeToo movement will continue to effect positive change in our law and break down the barriers to speak out about sexual assault.