The #MeToo Movement and False Accusations
We recently covered the case of T.F., a boy whose parents filed a federal lawsuit after he was falsely accused of sexual assault on two different occasions. The lawsuit is culturally salient for several reasons, one of which is the #MeToo. This movement, which felled dozens of seemingly infallible public figures and encouraged everyone to believe victims, has also highlighted the rare occasions when an accusation is not justifiable.
The #MeToo movement, started in 2017 by actress Alyssa Milano using a phrase coined by social activist Tarana Burke, encouraged women to come forward with their stories of sexual assault, especially in the workplace. This exploded in a shower of sexual assault accusations against everyone from Louis CK to Harvey Weinstein, exposing endemic patterns of sexual harassment and assault in environments where many assumed the practices had been wiped out. As a result, many institutions are taking new precautions to educate against sexual harassment and assault.
However, as a slew of perpetrators (typically male) are held accountable by their victims (typically female) another issue has gained the spotlight: false accusations. If “believe the victim” is the first rule, what happens when the “victim” is no victim at all?
Most estimates indicate that about 5% of all sexual assault accusations are false, so these cases are undoubtedly unusual. However, when a false accusation does occur, it can have dire consequences on the accused, ranging from loss of employment to arrest and incarceration. In the case of T.F., he first lost his job and was put on probation; after the second allegations emerged, he was shackled, put into juvenile detention for nine days, then subjected to house arrest. He was also bullied by his peers; the 26-page lawsuit his parents filed cite an incident where T.F.’s classmates put a sign reading “PREDATOR” on his back.
Making false allegations of sexual assault can carry serious repercussions for the accuser as well. Victims of false allegations can choose to sue their accusers for damages, as in the case of T.F. False accusers can also be arrested and incarcerated for crimes such as interfering with police and falsely reporting an incident, as in the case of Nikki Yovino earlier this year. Yovino, 22, accused two football players at a nearby college of sexually assaulting her; she was sentenced to a year in jail in August.
Because instances like T.F.’s are so rare, believing the victim is a statistically safe bet. However, false accusations unfortunately do occur every once in a while. If you are sexually assaulted or are falsely accused of sexual assault, be sure to protect yourself by consulting a lawyer immediately.