Dershowitz: #MeToo & Guilt by Accusation

A must-read for the falsely accused or anyone who seeks to be better understand #metoo and the presumption of guilt in the court of public opinion.

Falsely Accused of Sexual Misconduct?

Being falsely accused of sexual misconduct or a sex crime is a life-changing event. Minneapolis crisis communications and litigation communications firm BETTISON helps such people.

BETTISON provides support for individuals who face allegations that are untrue and made, not for a search for truth and justice, but to advance a personal agenda. This is not to diminish the very real and traumatizing experiences individuals who have been the victim of a crime, and in particular a sex crime or harassment. But there is a critical difference between allegations based on truth, and allegations based on falsities and advanced for financial or social gain.

If you have been falsely accused of sexual misconduct, read Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo by Alan Dershowitz (Skyhorse Publishing). This book, however, is a must-read not only for anyone who stands in the crosshairs of false accusations and truth, but for everyone. Because anyone – regardless of race, gender, socio-economic standing, education, past upbringing or present circumstances – could be adjudged guilty just on accusation alone in the court of public opinion.

Guilt by Accusation — Written by the Accused

In 2014, professor and renowned attorney Alan Dershowitz was accused of sexual misconduct. In his book, Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo, Mr. Dershowitz highlights how social movements can be weaponized by nefarious actors to redistribute power and wealth. According to Mr. Dershowitz, none of us are beyond the reach of such tactics — he is a prime example of that:

The important lesson for all Americans is that if this can happen to me—if I can be falsely accused and have my reputation tarnished by a frame-up plot with no evidentiary support—it could happen to anyone: to you, to your son, to your father and even to your daughter.

Everyone is Vulnerable to False Accusations

Guilt by Accusation is a compelling read with a message that applies to all of us.  It reminds us that anyone of us, or someone close to us, could suddenly become the next victim of a false accusation of misconduct. Mr. Dershowitz is clear that victims deserve to be heard and justice should serve them.  His point, however, is that we shouldn’t completely trample the rights of the accused to get there. This standard is embedded in our court system and should also be present in the court of public opinion–it should apply to everyone:

This is everyone’s battle, not just mine. It is a battle for justice for all. It is a struggle against those who bear false witness.  The Bible commands, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” The word justice is repeated, because there must be justice both for the victim of false accusations and for those who falsely accuse.

#MeToo Shifted the Presumption from Innocence to Guilt

In a court filing, stemming from litigation against Jeffrey Epstein, whom Mr. Dershowitz had previously represented as defense counsel, Mr. Dershowitz unequivocally denied the allegations against him in the media and in court, bolstered by his producing substantial evidence in his defense as well as citing an independent investigation that was undertaken by a former FBI director and that exonerated him. Normally the accused would benefit from the presentation of exculpatory evidence and would be extended some semblance of a presumption of innocence, but:

Then along came the #MeToo movement and everything changed. Although the evidence of my innocence only increased during this period—and the evidence of my accuser’s mendacity also became more evident—the atmosphere changed dramatically. Evidence was no longer important. It was the accusation that mattered, as well as the identities of the accuser and accused. The presumption shifted from innocence to guilt. For a man to call a false accuser a liar became a political sin, even if the accused had hard evidence of the accuser’s lies, as I did. Much of the media, especially but not exclusively the social media, bought into the narrative of guilty by accusation instead of by proof. They refused to report on evidence of innocence that contradicted the narrative of guilt. For some an accusation of sexual guilt is so horrible that it must be true, regardless of the evidence.

False Accusations Are Made with Impunity

Mr. Dershowitz goes on detail his fight to clear his name. He illuminates a disturbing tactic used by profiteers exploiting the courts and media, who become unwitting (or witting?) conspirators in these deliberate plans to advance nefarious agendas:

Currently, lawyers, clients, and witnesses can make defamatory statements in public court filings and depositions without fear of a civil suit or a perjury prosecution. As [U.S. Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit] Judge [Jose] Cabranes put it in a recent decision: ‘It is in fact exceedingly rare for anyone to be prosecuted for perjury in a civil proceeding.’ It is these realities that incentivized [Dershowitz accuser Virginia Roberts] Giuffre and her lawyers to falsely accuse me of a crime with complete immunity: they believed that I could not sue them, because their allegations were contained in a court filing, and were thus immune from a defamation suit. Even more absurdly, by denying Giuffre’s allegations and saying they were lies, I subjected myself to a defamation suit.

The media enjoys a similar protection against defamation because they are simply reporting the subject matter of a court filing. Mr. Dershowitz notes that accusers can effectively “launder” defamatory accusations through the media while protecting themselves from being hit with defamation suits by planting such allegations in court filings and leaking them to the press.

Contact BETTISON if you need help defending against any accusation of sexual misconduct, harassment or crime. In the meantime, read Guilt by Accusation. It will give you a deeper insight into these complex issues.