US jury finds former President Donald Trump guilty of sexually abusing and defaming magazine writer E. Jean Carroll, and ordered to pay her $5m as damages. This is one more feather to the #MeToo movement, and has raised important questions about the accountability of public figures and the legal system’s ability to address sexual assault and harassment allegations.
During the two-week long trial, Carroll testified that Trump had sexually assaulted her in a fitting room at a Manhattan store in mid-1990s.
Though Carroll subsequently filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump for his statements, the case was delayed due to legal challenges. In March 2021, the Court of Appeals ruled that the case could proceed, rejecting Trump’s claim that he was immune from the lawsuit as a sitting president. The judge’s decision was significant, as it marked the first time that a court had allowed a defamation case against a sitting president to proceed.
Carroll told the jury, “Woman after woman stood up… Well, this may be a way to change the culture of sexual violence…”
The impact of this decision on the #MeToo movement is two-fold. Firstly, it demonstrates that even those in power and influence are not above the law and that victims of sexual assault and harassment have the right to seek justice. The ruling also sends a message to other high-profile figures that they can be held accountable for their actions.
Secondly, the ruling highlights the challenges that victims face when seeking justice through the legal system. Carroll’s case took over two years to reach this point, and many victims face significant barriers when attempting to report or seek justice for sexual violence. The fact that a court has allowed Carroll’s case to proceed is a positive step, but there is still much work to be done to ensure that such victims have access to justice.
It remains to be seen how Trump makes the next move, but it is a defining verdict towards a more just and equal society.
Courage is contagious
Carroll attained justice beyond herself, and more skeletons can be expected to come out. The verdict also infers that political slant can’t compete with evidence in the court of law. Human law thwarted law of the jungles, where might is right. The law is meant to shield victims whose rights or characters are violated, and to hold the trespassers to account.
Back in India, recall the Delhi court verdict in February 2021 where journalist Priya Ramani was found not guilty of criminal defamation for accusing former Union minister MJ Akbar of sexual harassment in 2018. The case had become a focal point of the #MeToo movement in India.
Ramani was the first to publicly accuse him and was subsequently sued for defamation by Akbar. The ruling was also seen as a blow to powerful men who had long been able to silence their accusers through the use of defamation lawsuits.
Overall, the rulings in both the Trump and Ramani cases highlight the importance of holding powerful individuals accountable for their actions. They also encourage victims to speak out.
Earlier one thought that #MeToo has done what law could not. The judgement reinforces the hash-tag. The internet-age has better equipped people to deal with these issues; social media democratises women’s lib helping them to share their ordeals. For some women, the world is changing.
How many women were stripped of their livelihoods/reputations without due-process? When more survivors speak up, the nation not only listens, it demands answers. Unwanted advances aren’t buried and forgotten. In other words, he may overlook her; she remembers him.
The perpetrator can easily say he was misunderstood, tough to prove that a gesture was harassment. Complaints will be negatively flagged, and the offenders often pretend they were ‘surprised’ by the victim’s interpretation and walk away unscathed.
If your boss flirts, you try to steer the fine line between not hurting his fragile ego and ending up trespassed upon. You don’t want to risk that promotion for which you worked so hard. You discreetly express your unease. Some women have to deal with awkward attention all the time. Here, Ramani and Carroll refused to be cowed down.
What grows from within this culture is an attitude of impunity. It may be a CEO, politician, celebrity, sportsman, artist, actor, author… They rely on their ‘superiority’ that allows them to do what they do. Some wrongdoers believe their victims should feel ‘privileged’; punishment is usually for ordinary people, not them.
Is this the end of Trump’s political future? Will this be the first of many convictions? Carroll, you’ve shown the world that you will not be silenced. Yes, all allegations merit adjudication.
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