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From Just Me to #MeToo to Not You -- Part I

Susan Estrich on

In 1974, when I walked out of an alley in Boston's Back Bay, it was pretty much "just me." Of course, millions of women were raped (we didn't have a word for sexual harassment then), but it wasn't something you talked about or reported. The stigma was sufficiently bad that when I told my mother, she insisted that I tell no one because no decent man would ever have me.

Maybe so. But I told everyone.

I told the guys at the bar I worked at and will always be grateful to Somerville's Winter Hill Gang (made famous by Whitey Bulger, but run then by Howie Winter, who gave the order) for protecting me while I bartended my way through nearby Harvard Law School.

I told the judge I clerked for, the late, great J. Skelly Wright, and in 1977, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the requirement that the testimony of a rape victim (unlike victims of every other crime) must be corroborated. "This one's for you," he said, and I was on my way.

I told the criminal law class I was teaching at Harvard in 1981 (and every such class I have taught in the 40 years since), and the death threats started. The police tapped my phone. The dean and his wife sat with me. I wrote my tenure piece on rape. Then I wrote a book. I told my story.

#MeToo didn't just happen. It was decades in the making. We called ourselves victims. We changed the law. Courageous women, men who came forward to support us, judges willing to take a second look, prosecutors creating special units, police admitting they needed to change. We created the Victim Rights Law Center. We insisted that no means no. Then we demanded that a woman must say yes.

To those who say #MeToo has gone too far, I beg to differ.

The problem is, as with any movement, the users. The liars. The women, and men, who are trying to pervert half a century of struggle into a seven-figure payout.

 

I'm not talking about the close cases that we have yet to sort out: the ones involving young people and drugs and alcohol, the ones involving force that is not physical. I'm not talking about the borderline cases in the workplace -- cases of inappropriate comments, vulgar jokes, friendly/not-so-friendly hugs, gestures that are potentially ambiguous. In almost all of these cases, drawing lines is complicated by issues of proof.

No, the users and the liars are those who would turn relationships that are private -- consensual relationships between adults, however appropriate or inappropriate some of us might think them to be -- into opportunities to dig for gold. I'm talking about cases like the one I've just filed, against an enterprise that used a completely unsupportable, utterly fictitious label of "rapist" to get even more money than the millions they had already extorted, or at least "cancel" my client in the process.

Consider these facts: A woman invites her lover to come to her apartment to tuck her in, and could he please bring some wine, and she texts him the next morning that "this is love." And then, seven years later, claims that actually, he barged into her apartment and raped her that night. Confronted with her own texts showing her complaint to be a total lie, she and her law firm came up with an even "better" story of being kidnapped and taken to Jeffrey Epstein's house in Florida for sex. Except that never happened either: This time, the flight logs proved the fantasy. So then they found a Jane Doe who supposedly once gave a massage to my client at Epstein's house. Twenty years ago.

I'm glad that "rapist" carries the power it does. For years, decades, I've been telling women, "Don't say no; say rape. Use the power."

But powerful weapons must be handled with care. That means resisting the urge to convict based on accusations.

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To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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