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What the #MeToo Movement is Doing to the Rights of the Accused

Published: Mar 29, 2018 in Sex Crimes

The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have become social phenomena. Women and men of all ages, races, backgrounds, and industries are sharing stories of when they were sexually victimized. They are raising awareness of a wide range of conduct. Toxic workplace cultures that enable sexual harassment, or employers that brush sexual harassment under the rug, are also targeted in #MeToo stories.

In the wake of so many stories from men and women across the country, it is important to take a critical look at how a social media-based movement is changing our society, workplaces, and legal system.

If you have been accused of a sex crime in the wake of #MeToo, you can rest assured that your right to due process is intact. What you can and should do is contact experienced Houston sexual assault lawyer Ned Barnett. Contact The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free and confidential case consultation.

An Accused’s Legal Rights Remain the Same While Public Opinion on #MeToo Evolves

Some men and women’s stories discuss inappropriate and harmful social behavior amongst colleagues, peers, and friends. Often, this behavior does not amount to a crime. In regard to these situations, there is no change to the accused’s civil or criminal rights. Anyone is allowed to speak about instances in which they felt uncomfortable or were emotionally harmed. Accused individuals typically have a similar platform to respond. The Aziz Ansari story is one example. A story regarding Ansari’s behavior on a date went viral. He was able to respond privately and publicly. If an accused does feel their rights are violated, such as if they are a victim of defamation, they should speak with an attorney immediately.

Many #MeToo stories focus on sexual harassment in the workplace, something that remains a significant problem across the country. One of the central points of this social movement is that sexual harassment at work often goes uninvestigated and/or unpunished, despite it being against the company’s stated policy and employment protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Individuals should not be afraid of suddenly losing their jobs or being dragged into court over an isolated comment.

To constitute sexual harassment, the behavior must either be so frequent it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or it is severe. In response to accusations of sexual harassment at work, men and women’s rights remain the same. An accused is only likely to lose their job if facts support they contributed to pervasive sexual harassment or performed an egregious incident of sexual harassment. If someone who has been accused feels they were wrongly terminated, they may file a complaint and work with an attorney to address the situation.

The most serious #MeToo stories discuss criminal conduct, including rape. In this regard, the #MeToo movement has the potential to make changes. More accusations may be thoroughly investigated by the police, and prosecutors may move forward with charges in situations where they would not have before because of social attitudes. Both of these factors remain to be seen. Accusations of criminal conduct may lead to greater social condemnation now, however, they are not automatic convictions. These allegations must be investigated by law enforcement.

Worry Over Due Process

Many men and women are worried about due process in light of a greater number of accusations of sexual misconduct. Due process, which is deeply rooted in the U.S. Constitution, is an individual’s legal right to fair treatment within the judicial system. Federal and state governments must respect all of an individual’s legal rights, ensuring that a person has the opportunity to be heard in a court of law.

In regard to accusations of socially inappropriate behavior, due process is not an issue. Due process encompasses how a person is treated within the court system and is not an aspect of friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships, or social commentary. Everyone has a right to due process. No one has a legal right to be treated fairly by members of the public or press.

If a victim of sexual harassment at work makes an internal complaint, the question is not one of due process because it is not a government action. The business faces a judgment call regarding whether the accused should remain in a position of trust and authority, or whether the facts support the accused being let go. As a private entity, the business can handle the situation however it deems fit. If the victim files a formal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or state-level administrative complaint, there will be a more formal process. An accused individual has the right to an attorney and to defend themselves. In either situation, whether or not the accused can lose their job is still based on federal and state employment laws and contract law, specifically whether the accused is an at-will employee or their behavior violated the terms of their employment agreement.

Due process is most relevant when a person’s accusations are in relation to criminal conduct. The #MeToo movement may be changing society’s views, however, it has not changed the legal system. During a criminal investigation into an alleged sex crime, the accused always has the right to an attorney. If charges are brought, they have the right to a fair and speedy trial and to mount a defense during this process.

Have You Been Accused of a Sex Crime?

In the midst of legitimate accusations of sexual harassment and assault, there have always been false allegations. If you are a victim of false accusations of a sex crime or an uncomfortable misunderstanding stemming from a #MeToo story, contact attorney Ned Barnett today. He has decades of experience handling all types of sex offense cases. He will protect you throughout this process and aggressively defend you in court.

Contact The Law Offices of Ned Barnett today at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free case consultation.