Falsely Accusing #MeToo: Labeling Theory, Social Media, and Public Opinion
Hale to the Chief?
“It is true rape is a most detestable crime, and therefore ought severely and impartially to be punished with death; but it must be remembered, that it is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho never so innocent” (Hale, 1847, pg. 634).
This quote by Sir Matthew Hale, who was an influential English barrister, judge and lawyer in the 1600’s is unequivocally one the truest statements in history regarding rape. I understand that some people may disagree with Hale’s perspective regarding the latter aspects of his quote, however, it can’t be argued that a person falsely accused of (any) crime (rape, murder, arson, shoplifting, etc.), shouldn’t be made a pariah prior to due process being given to said person.
Hey, Don’t Forget #MeToo!
The #MeToo movement has raised the awareness of a nation, making way for women to voice how difficult it is for them to move through society without being harassed, sexually assaulted, and intimidated and/or abused (Dastagir, 2017). Moreover, this movement has forced prominent politicians out of office (i.e. Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Trent Franks) over sexual misconduct allegations, while at the same time depicting these same men as monsters and pariahs, unfit to hold office due to their past transgressions. In the same vein, and perhaps most notably, Hollywood moguls such as Harvey Weinstein have been brought down to size based on claims of sexual improprieties and inappropriate behavior toward women. In these examples, perhaps it’s justified to expect their resignations from their respective posts due to their own admissions to wrong doing or the abundance of evidence that suggest (or proves their guilt). However, what about those men who are stand up guys and their reputation impeccable and they are falsely accused of a sexual assault?
Labeling Theory, Stigmatization and Societal Reaction
Let me be clear, any individual (male or female) who forces another person into doing something against their will, especially in regards to sexual assault should be labeled deviant and dealt with according to the law. However, there will and has been situations in which individuals, mostly men, have been falsely accused of a sexual assault. Unfortunately, the time is upon us where these men are not getting the due process they deserve according to the law, while simultaneously their reputations are being called into question by the community and society as a whole.
Ultimately, all a person has in the end is their reputation and what they represent. Therefore, labeling individuals as a sexual assaulter is a serious moniker and needs to be carefully applied. Unfortunately, in certain situations, this expectation is not adhered to, thus allowing for the accused to become a pariah, an outsider. Howard Becker (1963) explains it best regarding how an individual is tagged with a particular label:
“…social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an “offender”. The deviant is one to who that label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label”
Arguably, the #MeToo movement is essentially a (social group’s) created standard. A standard from the stand point that even an accusation of sexual impropriety, particularly towards a woman, counts as an infraction against the new rules of social consciousness regarding sexual assault victims. The accused now carries the label of being a deviant, which has been successfully applied to them.
Of course there are those who will scoff at this perspective and note that the percentage of false allegations of sexual assault are rare. In fact, Lisak, Gardinier, Nicksa, and Cote (2010) found in their study that over a 10-year period the prevalence of false allegations of sexual assault ranged between 2% and 10%. It is my contention that even though false allegations of sexual assault are rare, the small percentage of individuals who are falsely accused are still having the label of a deviant applied to them. According to Goffman (1963) people who become associated with a stigmatized situation pass from a “normal” to a “discredited” or “discreditable” social status. Furthermore, Kleinman and Hall-Clifford (2009) suggest that stigma decays one’s ability to hold on to what matters most to people in a local world, such as wealth, relationships, and life chances. It is important to remember that the stigmatized and those who stigmatize are interconnected through local social networks (Kleinman and Hall-Clifford, 2009, pg. 3).
Social Media and Public Opinion
In 2006, activist Tarana Burke started what has now famously become the #MeToo movement. However, the hashtag that represents the social cause can be attributed to the actress Alyssa Milano. Milano used the hashtag in an effort to support her friend Rose McGowan who made allegations of sexual harassment against the now disgraced Harvey Weinstein.
However, there is an argument to be made that there is already pushback growing against the #MeToo movement. According to Weiss (2017), there will come a time where there will be a false accusation in the likes of the Duke Lacrosse moment, or the University of Virginia moment in which a purported group sexual assault took place on campus, and Rolling Stone ended up writing, a now retracted article, A Rape on Campus, which turned out to fabricated.
Unfortunately, the truth tends to get lost in the minutiae of social media. The court of public opinion often has the tendency to disregard facts and cling to salaciousness as a newborn to their mother’s breast. One case in point is that of college students Catherine Reddington and Alex Goldman. This is a classic case of a young woman in a frat house drunk off her rocker and wakes up in the bed with a man and doesn’t know what happened the night before, but claims she was raped. However, according to police reports, the two both woke up fully clothed in Goldman’s bed the next morning after the alleged incident. What’s more, the investigation into Reddington’s claims went on for several months, which included a medical exam, rape kit and bloodwork within 26 hours of the incident and found no evidence that Reddington had been assaulted, drugged or even had sex with Goldman. (Boniello, 2018). In addition, the assistant district attorney said this about why Goldman was never charged:
“Investigators found it “impossible to determine what, if anything, occurred that evening between Ms. Reddington and Mr. Goldman. There is no credible (proof) of any sexual conduct in this case, consensual or non-consensual” (Boniello, 2018).
Yet and still, with all these facts in the foreground, Ms. Reddington took to Facebook in attempt to plead her case, or in perhaps what Mr. Goldman would believe, to smear his name, even though he was never charged with a sexual assault crime. To add insult to injury, Ms. Reddington’s false accusations got Goldman kicked out of Syracuse University. It is also believed that Reddington’s social-media posts are targeting Goldman’s new school and employer in an attempt to further tarnish his reputation. What is concerning about this particular situation is that not only is an innocent man tormented by false allegations, but that people on social-media, specifically commenting on Reddington’s synopsis about what transpired the night she was supposedly “raped” and “sodomized” are cheering her (Reddington) on as some sort of hero. Just scroll down to the comments and you will see replies such as, “you are so strong, keep being beautiful”, “So brave. You are so strong”, “We’re with you all the way”. These types of responses are quite delusional given the facts of the case. How is she (Reddington) so brave and strong? Why are people with her “all the way” when the law has admitted that Mr. Goldman is innocent from any wrong doing? The reason in my estimation is because social media loves to tear down and destroy anyone in its path, regardless of the facts.
Nikki Yovino Case
Take the case of the two college football players from Sacred Heart University, Malik St. Hilaire and (unnamed). These two young men were initially charged with raping Nikki Yovino in a bathroom during an off-campus party. Detectives believed her at first and had witness statements that seemed to corroborate her story, and it appeared the investigation was leading to charging the two students. However, months later she admitted to police her allegations were all a ruse to garner sympathy from a prospective boyfriend. More specifically, it turns out Yovino didn’t want this prospective boyfriend to view her as (promiscuous) so in turn, she claimed her sexual, consensual, encounter with the two football players was a forced event (Rhett-Miller, 2017).
Although Yovino later admitted that her allegations were all a lie, the spoiled identity of the two young men had already been done. Mr. Hilaire gave a victim impact statement at sentencing confronting Yovino:
“I went from being a college student to sitting at home being expelled, with no way to clear my name,” St. Hilaire told the judge, as Yovino smirked just a few feet away. “I just hope she knows what she has done to me. My life will never be the same. I did nothing wrong, but everything has been altered because of this.”
In a Perfect World
There are plenty of men in the world who are loving and kind. It’s very disappointing to see masculinity under attack by so many in society. Moreover, it’s sad to have the entire male species labelled as barbarians. In a perfect world, when a sexual assault allegation is made, withholding judgment until all the facts have had an opportunity to manifest would be best. Instead of following the faux outrage of social media and mainstream media corporations, individuals should practice reservation and restraint. Perhaps this idea is a pipe dream that will never come to fruition, but one can still hope.
Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders; studies in the sociology of deviance. London: Free Press of Glencoe.
Boniello, K. (2018, June, 30). False college rape allegation “destroyed” my life: suit. New York Post. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2018/06/30/false-college-rape-allegation-destroyed-my-life-suit/
Borge, J. (2018, January, 7). Who Started the Me Too Movement? Retrieved from https://www.instyle.com/news/who-started-me-too-movement
Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York: Prentice-Hall.
Hale, M., In Stokes, W. A., In Ingersoll, E., & Emlyn, S. (1847). Historia placitorum coronae: The history of the pleas of the crown. Philadelphia: R.H. Small.
Harvey Weinstein scandal: Who has accused him of what? (2018, May, 25), BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-41580010
Kleinman, Arthur and Rachel Hall-Clifford. Forthcoming. (2009). Stigma: A social, cultural, and moral process. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 63(6).
Lisak, D., Gardinier, L., Nicksa, S. C., & Cote, A. M. (2010). False allegations of sexual assault: An analysis of ten years of reported cases. Violence Against Women, 16(12), 1318–1334.
Marie, Catherine. (June 4). In Facebook. Retrieved (September, 26, 2018). https://www.facebook.com/kay.tee.585/posts/10215868923373744
Miller, R.J. (2017, February, 22). Teen Charged with lying about being raped by college football players. New York Post. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2017/02/22/teen-charged-with-lying-about-being-raped-by-college-football-players/
Richer, D.A. (2017, June, 13). Rolling Stone to pay $1.65 to settle suit over rape story. Associated Press. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/d78870b25d2d4cd8b06c99ae34001406
Some say one false report could cripple the #MeToo movement. Is progress that fragile? (2017, December, 8), USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/12/08/analysis-movement-metoo-but-heres-why-were-still-talking-believewomen/923156001/
Weiss, B. (2017, November, 28). “The Limits of “Believe All Women”. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/opinion/metoo-sexual-harassment-believe-women.html