THE BIRTH OF THE #METOO MOVEMENT

The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming book by E.F. Ferraro entitled:

How to respond and recover when falsely accused of sexual assault or other serious misconduct in the new #MeToo world where men are guilty until proven innocent

The #MeToo movement (or sometimes simply referred to as the MeToo movement), with its many local and international alternatives, is widely acknowledged to be ground zero of the grassroots response against sexual harassment and sexual assault that shook the globe. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, (especially in the workplace) and the solidarity of those who opposed it and supported its victims. The movement bloomed soon after sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a successful American film producer became public.

Ms. Tarana Burke, an American social activist and community organizer, is credited for having first used the phrase “Me Too” as early as 2006 on the then trendy, social media platform, Myspace. The phrase was later popularized by Ms. Alyssa Milano, an actress using Twitter in 2017. Ms. Milano encouraged victims of sexual harassment to Tweet about it in order to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. Her campaign enjoyed quick publicity and success after supportive posts by high-profile Hollywood celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Jennifer Lawrence, and Uma Thurman which were then retweeted and retweeted.

Milano had Tweeted her first “Me Too” around noon on October 15, 2017, and by the end of the day it had been used more than 200,000 times. By the next day it had been retweeted more than 500,000 times. On Facebook, the hashtag was used by more than 4.7 million people in 12 million posts during the first 24 hours. Facebook later reported that 45 percent of users in the United States had a friend who had posted using the term.

Everyone mobilized. Less than a month later, Congress Woman, Jackie Speier proposed the Member and Employee Training and Oversight on Congress Act (shortened to read, the ME TOO Congress Act). The full language of the bipartisan bill was revealed by the House on January 18, 2018 as an amendment to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. The purpose of the bill is to change how the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government treats sexual harassment complaints. Under the old system, complaints regarding the legislative branch were channeled through the Office of Compliance, which required complete confidentially through the process and took months of counseling and mediation before a complaint could actually be filed. Any settlement payments were paid using federal taxes, and it was reported that within a decade, $15 million of tax money had been spent settling harassment and discrimination complaints. The bill would ensure future complaints could only take up to 180 days to be filed. The bill would also allow the staffers to transfer to a different department or otherwise work away from the presence of the alleged harasser without losing their jobs if they requested it. The bill would require Representatives and Senators to pay for their own harassment settlements. The Office of Compliance would no longer be allowed to keep settlements secret, and would be required to publicly publish the settlement amounts and the associated employing offices. For the first time, the same protections would also apply to unpaid workers, including pages, fellows and interns.  To the dismay of many, the bill has yet to become law.

As for Weinstein, following the sexual abuse allegations against him he was dismissed from his company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences within weeks of Milano’s first Tweet. By October 31, over 80 women had made allegations against him. His “dirty little secret” had been exposed. The allegations against Weinstein sparked hundreds of sexual abuse allegations and the termination of powerful men around the globe. In memoriam, the phenomena has been called the Weinstein effect.

On May 25, 2018, Weinstein was arrested in New York, charged with rape and other criminal offenses, and released on bail. As of the date of this writing, he is awaiting trial. For someone who apparently thought a job interview includes stuffing his penis in the mouth of a female applicant, a stiff stint (no pun intended) in a creepy prison surrounded by angry and sexually frustrated men seems rather lenient…