Conviction Without The Court: Why Social Media Should Not Be The Place To Find Justice

After the ouster of CEO and chairman Dov Charney from American Apparel, questions about the company’s responsibility to remove such a grotesque figure from a leadership position have been renewed.

Why did they wait so long before firing him? His lack of professionalism and complaints of sexual misconduct have been long documented.

On the creepiness scale, Charney is akin to Terri Richardson, the fashion and art photographer who has reportedly demanded sex from his subjects.

These men don’t just have a perv-y nature in common, but they’re both media darlings, if you will; many of the stories that feature them are are negative, sure, but there’s a certain preoccupation with writing about the weird and overt sexuality of these guys (look no further than this oddly-complimentary New York Magazine profile), which is rarely followed up with formal complaints and the revulsion that should be necessarily accompanied by their actions.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve acquired outlets for airing our experiences and complaints — just check out Twitter and Facebook — that many people don’t feel the need to follow up.

In the case of Columbia University, for example, the names of four alleged “sexual assault violators on campus” appeared on walls around the school. Three of these individuals were listed as convicted by the school’s disciplinary board.

One was titled a “serial rapist” — his academic standing unclear, but it’s like the university disciplinary board had failed to properly adjudicate, and it’s also very likely that his case had never been brought before a dean or a judge.

But even for every guy who was “found responsible” on this list, there are many of those who are only talked about in hushed tones, as friends warn one another not to get involved but do little else.

Students were afraid to get involved in an official proceeding, so they took the arguably less-imposing route, publicizing their attacks in the only way they felt comfortable, which included locker room conversations and literally writing it out on the bathroom wall.

But is this really beneficial? The stories of the Columbia rapists, the molesting Richardson, and the all-sorts-of-wrong Charney are numerous, but attempts to actually bring these people their punishments through a non-socially imposed manners are fewer (this is less the case for Charney, but still).

Social media and other forms of sharing have allowed people to subvert the justice system by giving wronged individuals a platform to tell their story without providing the proper means of prosecution.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the likes of Richardson and Charney are nasty. I think they are horrible human beings who have been allowed to prey on others for far too long, and I hope they soon find themselves out on their asses, penniless and without the prospect of future employment.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this will soon be the case. I would hope that companies and brands are hesitant to work with such individuals, not just because their behavior is a financial “liability,” as described in the Charney situation, but because it’s reprehensible, embarrassing, not fit for an industry leader and degrading towards women.

But the problem is that the casualties of these men’s grotesque sexual proclivities have remained in the shadows, speaking about their experiences in (largely) anonymous whispers and not seeking action against their perpetrators.

The court system needs to be amended, not ignored altogether.

Rape is a crime. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a crime. Sticking your unwanted penis in somebody’s unsuspecting face (thank you, Terri Richardson) is a crime.

Women need to know that they can go forward through formal channels, to let the justice system crack down on their perverse and violent individuals with hopefully-appropriate penalties like jail time.

I acknowledge, the court system has failed these female victims when they’ve opted to come forward in many previous cases and scenarios. Too often a rape victim is slut-shamed by a prosecutor and the jury gets convinced that “she was asking for it.”

Too often a model is iced out of a fashion crowd’s inner circle because her cries of sexual harassment were deemed as an uptight bitch’s complaints.

In a system in which money talks and bullsh*t walks, women can become the casualties of the rich, famous and well-connected.

Scared into submission, their silence ensures that the likes of Charney, Richardson and campus rapists can continue to pollute the world with their horrible behavior and beliefs.

And perhaps it’s not just that people are scared, but they have social media. With so much chatter on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and a bundle of blogs, it’s easy for a wronged party to seemingly take up their cause with their local or national community.

Instead of pressing charges against Richardson years ago — for the aforementioned dick-in-the-face incident — Anna del Glazio recently wrote a scathing piece on the guy.

In recounting her personal story with the photographer, she confirmed what so many others have rumored: Terri Richardson is a sexist, rape-y prick. But would her story have made a bigger impact if she had first told it to police officers, and then a jury of her peers in court?

Perhaps if Richardson had a criminal record then, he wouldn’t have reached the colossal levels of success he has now.

The same goes for Charney — according to those who fired him, this move had been a longtime coming, but they faced insufficient evidence for filing for his termination (granted there had been sexual harassment suits brought against him, but unfortunately nothing stuck).

American Apparel co-chairman Allen Mayer told media outlets that the board had “heard for years allegations and rumors in newspaper stories that were not sufficient to take action.”

He further justified all their inaction until now on the “questionable” nature of what was being said about Charney, at industry parties and on blogs and social media:

“A board can't make decisions on the basis of rumors and stories in newspapers.”

Much like Richardson, Charney’s reputation preceded him, but those in power said they couldn’t act (whether you believe them or not) until certain concrete complaints and accompanying evidence came to light.

With all the sexual harassment suits against Charney, though, this is one clear example of how the courts have failed, and were ill-equipped to serve the women who couldn’t successfully fight the legal power of a CEO of a multi-million dollar operation.

Predators like these people are often serial offenders. It probably appears to the victims of their crimes that the bad guys will certainly get away with it (as Charney did for far too long), and that they’ll drag their name through the mud as they go down.

That might happen. The bad guy might win and get off scot-free. But without the judicial process, this will definitely happen, and they’ll likely spend their time after those first few moments of relief hunting down their next victims.

Trash talking a criminal creep might make you feel better in the moment — and if it’s something you need to do to come to terms with how you’ve been violated, then that should definitely become part of your personal healing process.

But by not going through the court system, other women are made susceptible and these misbehaving men get another green-light to continue their attacks against others.

While the subject of this post so far focuses on what the women could have done differently, don’t get me wrong — the fault here is with the reprehensible, scum-of-the-earth people who think it’s their right to act in such a manner. I hate them, and I hate the fact that they’re still getting away with these clear violations of the law.

Hopefully, some women will give courts a chance, and bring their claims to a setting where these perpetrators can receive the legal punishment they deserve.

But, in the meantime, while many women still, and understandably, feel like the formal justice system doesn’t understand them or the trauma they’ve been subjected to, we need to look for alternative ways that will make courts more responsive and attuned to women’s issues.

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