While the #MeToo movement has spurred more women to come forward with allegations of sexual abuse, not all such claims have proven to be true in courts of law. Perhaps, as a result, juries may be becoming more skeptical and less trusting of accusers, and the movement’s impact may be diminishing in some civil and criminal cases.
#MeToo’s biggest recent setback came in the civil defamation lawsuits of actor Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard—lawsuits they filed against each other after she accused him of abuse over the course of their relationship, which he vehemently denied.
In a ruling last week, Heard lost—big time.
As NBC News and other news agencies reported when the notorious 6-week trial ended, a Virginia jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. (He’d sought $50 million in damages in his defamation lawsuit.)
The punitive damages were reduced to $350,000, the state’s statutory limit for punitive damages, which are designed to punish offenders rather than compensate their victims.
As for Heard and her counter lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages, she was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and no money in punitive damages over her claim that she was defamed by Depp’s attorneys, who’d called her accusatory actions a “hoax.”
Even so, Depp was the big winner, and the verdicts and the damages awarded or denied sent a clear message: #MeToo may succeed in quickly getting men convicted in the so-called court of public opinion before they have had their day in an actual court, but when that day comes, the burden of proof falls on prosecutors and the accuser, whose claims may be proven to be false.
In this case, the jury found that Heard had acted with actual malice when she wrote an opinion piece published in the New York Times in 2018, in which she indirectly accused Depp of domestic abuse.
The jury found unanimously that Heard could not substantiate her allegations of abuse against Depp and that she knew that her claims of abuse were false when the essay was published. Such malice, and an awareness of untruths, contributed to the punitive damages award.
Is there a dark side to the #MeToo movement? Exploring the increase in false allegations of sex crimes being made against innocent people.
Criminal cases involve #MeToo, too
Since a person’s freedom, and not just finances, can be at stake in a criminal case, finding the truth can be even more important when men are accused of domestic abuse or sexual assault. A conviction can mean years in prison, high fines, loss of a job and loss of reputation and standing.
Particularly when a high-profile man is accused, such claims can quickly steamroll on social media as just another example of predatory men abusing women, as has often happened in the age of #MeToo. That was the case with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose trial ended with his conviction on 2 counts of sexual assault.
Checking social media posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other sites may be among the 1st things a criminal defense attorney does when assessing an alleged sex crime…
The 2020 verdict was seen as a triumph for #MeToo, which blossomed in 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted support of the movement, which was founded by activist Tarana Burke in 2006.
But since #MeToo’s breakout as a movement 5 years ago, it’s been clear that, while many claims of sexual abuse are certainly true, not all accused men are Weinstein, despite being uniformly and quickly condemned on social media by #MeToo supporters.
Take the case of TV host Chris Hardwicke, who was accused of sexual abuse and sexual assault by a former girlfriend and then abruptly lost his job and his standing in the entertainment business when #MeToo-fueled attacks against him spread like wildfire.
An investigation later exonerated Hardwicke based on resounding support by those who knew him personally and professionally and by the fact that the former girlfriend had begged him in texts to take her back.
After being redeemed in the face of her false allegations, Hardwicke got his job and his reputation back—which he never should have lost in the first place.
As you can see, regardless of the growing number of such claims and the public scorn often heaped on men before they’ve had their day in court, that time in court can serve them well, especially with help from a skilled sex crime defense lawyer.
Your civil lawsuit over slander or libel can seek compensation for actual monetary losses caused by the false allegation.
Are false sex crime claims on the rise?
Though the #MeToo movement has sparked a rise in sex crime allegations, there also may be a corresponding rise in false claims. But what percentage of rape claims are false?
Extensive studies compiled in a Symposium on False Allegations of Rape and published by the Violence Against Women organization show that the rate of false rape claims ranges from 2.1 percent to 10.9 percent, or as much as 1 in every 9 cases.
False claims of rape or other sex crimes can be made for a variety of reasons.
In a civil case, the reason can be the money sought in jury awards for damages, as with Heard suing Depp for $100 million.
As for a criminal case, false claims may be sparked by resentment, anger or animosity against the accused person. Or, they may be a form of shame over having consented to sexual activity. Or, they may be a means of attention-getting. Or, they may be made to gain leverage in a bitter custody fight during divorce proceedings.
Get an experienced Houston-area sex crime defense lawyer
If you or a member of your family—perhaps a student facing a Title IX investigation—must counter a claim of sexual assault or abuse, you must get the best Houston-area sex crime defense lawyer you can find.
Persons in Harris County, Montgomery County and Fort Bend County can start their search with us. The award-winning Neal Davis Law Firm has long fought for the legal rights of Americans who face criminal charges, which may be unjust.
Don’t let the #MeToo movement or the court of public opinion determine your fate. Contact us today for a consultation about your criminal case involving sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic abuse or domestic assault. Your future and your freedom may depend on it.