A Legal Guide to the Sexual Harassment Frenzy

Media coverage of alleged sexual harassment is everywhere. The major news networks – MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, WGN – are not only reporting on past and the latest allegations, but have also assembled panels of “experts” to voice opinions on what all of this means. Social media, of course, is awash in opinions, and there are dozens of new thinkpieces every day on various cultural and news blogs. Experienced criminal defense attorneys know how to assert control over this dialogue and media morass; at Wigell Law Group, we have long-standing relationships with journalists and reporters in both visual and print media that help us do so and get the defendant’s perspective out to viewers at home. This is crucial to provide a balanced look at the situation and to protect our clients’ rights.

This sexual misconduct frenzy has significant implications on our social culture and our interpretation of our past social interactions. Flirtation is a part of normal and healthy romantic interactions, and is now being viewed through the lens of sexual harassment – sometimes even retroactively! Garrison Keillor, of Minnesota Public Radio, for example, reported that he meant to pat a woman’s back consolingly and accidentally made contact with her bare skin. She recoiled, he said, and he apologized. The current frenzy over sexual harassment is likely causing many people to look back on their own experiences and think that perhaps they might have been victims as well, at least under the current stringent concepts of sexual harassment.

And as we can see from the stories of men like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, George Takei, Russell Simmons, Kevin Spacey, Ed Westwick, Ben Affleck, Pixar’s John Lasseter, Roy Moore, Jeffrey Tambor, Lena Dunham, Brett Ratner, Al Franken, Louis CK, George H.W. Bush, Richard Dreyfuss, and surely more to come, events from many years ago can resurface, recontextualized, and there can be a very public reckoning.

This frenzy is also likely affecting our future social interactions. As with Koehler, many would seem far more reluctant to console another, for fear of accusation, or to flirt with someone they were attracted to. All of these implications are noteworthy.

What is not a focus, however, is how the individuals involved deal with the confrontational event.

Allegations and accusations of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, are seldom without disagreements. The accuser and the accused are in diametrically opposed positions, with one saying that misconduct occurred and the other either maintaining it did not or arguing the interpretation of the conduct in question. Even the terms used prior to determining actual or legal guilt can at times be prejudicial. Words like “perpetrator” and “victim” are very loaded and charged.

There is also room for error, without denigrating the suffering of those who feel wronged. False or at the very least exaggerated accusations, forced confessions wrenched from the accused, and motives rooted in revenge are prevalent. Shame and embarrassment, fear of reprisals, and the unfounded hope of reconciliation are all also prevalent.

Each side deserves to be heard. Each side, the one accusing and the one being accused, deserves to have an experienced attorney represent their interests and fight on their behalf. Only after a balanced, calm, and holistic approach to the investigation can justice occur.

Separate from the court of public opinion is the concept of legal analysis. Unlike the media, which can be well intentioned or self-righteous, legal analysis does not immediately jump to a conclusion. It certainly does not assume a conclusion and then require a remedy, i.e., punishment, money damages, a loss of contractual rights (getting fired, losing endorsements, being pressured to resign), etc.

Legal analysis, instead, is a process. First, the facts must be determined: what really did happen and what is either false or an exaggeration. Then, the law must be applied to those case facts. There are many sub-steps in this process. After all, complex questions and situations require complex and thoughtful analysis.

Facts are unique and case specific. This requires a complete and unbiased investigation by neutral and objective third parties.

Sexual harassment can be both a civil and criminal offense. Civil law protects and allows individuals to sue (to file a lawsuit) that asserts a claim. Money damages is the primary, but not sole, remedy in civil actions. Criminal law, on the other hand, seeks to protect society (all individuals) from the wrongdoing of a specific individual or corporation. Imprisonment, restitution to the individual victim (to “make that individual whole”) and fines are the primary remedies in criminal actions.

Two of the most commonly asked questions in sexual harassment matters are regarding the proper venue and the statute of limitations. Venue is where the action can be filed. Although this is a complex question, it is most often answered by determining where the wrongdoing took place and where the victim and/or accuser reside.

Statute of Limitations (S/L) questions are governed by local law and by proper venue. Civil and criminal S/L are governed by different laws (called statutes), and many times are different. Please use the links below to access additional information per Illinois statutes.

720 ILCS 5/3-6 governs the criminal statute of limitations on many offenses including sex-related offenses – regarding both adult and minors. This also covers offenses such as child pornography and prostitution. See specifically 720 ILCS 5/3-6(j)(1), which states that when the victim is under 18 years of age at the time of a sexual offense, a prosecution may be commenced at any time. This means there is no S/L

735 ILCS 5/13-202.2 governs the S/L in sexual misconduct involving children, or those under the age of 18. Specifically, 735 ILCS 5/13-202.2(d) states that the S/L does not run during a time that the minor is abused (threatened, intimidated, manipulated, or the victim of fraud perpetrated by the abuser), and that the S/L runs only after the minor reaches the age of 18, and if the person is under a legal disability at the time they turn 18, the S/L does not run until the disability is removed

720 ILCS 5/11-1.80 is the civil statute for sex crimes, and explains the civil liability that those convicted of a criminal sexual offense are exposed to.

 

What should a victim do?

To whom should a victim report the wrongdoing?

How should the report about the wrongdoing be transmitted?

If confronted, what should the accused do? How should he or she respond?

Is going to the media a good first step?

Is an in-person confrontation with the accused a good idea?

What is the value of the claim? From the victim’s perspective? From the perspective of the accused? Whose perspective controls?

Only an experienced local attorney can answer these questions. This is not simple math; it is not 1+1 = 2. Complex questions such as these demand complete, detailed analysis. At Wigell Law Group, we perform this analysis with regularity, and particular attention to nuance and implications.

As a sampling of my work, over the past 40+ years I have worked with victims, championing many high profile sex abuse and sexual harassment victims as well as the accused. That is correct: I have represented people on both sides of the wrongdoing. Good lawyering requires an understanding of both sides of a position. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons, the leverage points, the deal-making and deal-breaking points, the negotiation options, and the strategies is essential.

I have also represented high profile (as well as regular) people in the political, corporate, theatrical, entertainment, professional sports, academic, fine art, and religious communities.

The victims I have championed have been from many different demographic groups: minors, majority-aged, older, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transgender), etc.

The accused are sometimes in positions of trust over the victims, which creates a charged environment and requires extra care and attention to detail. These relationships include supervisor and employee, corporate officers and supervisors, therapists and patients, dentists and patients, medical doctors and patients, teachers and students, school administrators and employees, mentors and mentees, religious leaders and followers, and more.

Sometimes, the report was of a recent wrongdoing; more often than not, the occurrences were a few years or even decades before. Older cases can be based on triggered memories, repressed memory syndrome (a topic that remains contentious and hotly debated in the medical and psychiatric community), or triggered by an event that relates to the individual’s PTSD. This adds all kinds of confusion and layers to the situation and requires an even more meticulous and holistic defense strategy.

I have also represented clients in both civil and criminal cases. Knowledge of the two very different and distinct areas, as well as the interplay between them, is crucial for any defendant that wants his attorney to maximize his position and limit his exposure. There are also different kinds of criminal cases in which these situations arise; I have successfully represented people during investigations as well as in cases that were charged on both the state and federal level.

Why didn’t you know about this? Why didn’t the media feature these victories? Because they were never brought to the media’s attention, or because it wasn’t the socially encouraged viewpoint.

In some of these cases, the victims wanted a confrontation with the accused. We accomplished that via personal meetings and significant money settlements. Abusers also wanted closure, so they did whatever was necessary to respectfully compensate the victims, both emotionally and financially.

Considering the current frenzy, the concept that current accusations that may be true, false, or exaggerated, merits careful thought.

I am skilled at representing individuals involved in these matters, on multiple levels and from multiple positions and perspectives. These are complex issues that, despite the slew of recent firings and resignations and loud condemnations, our society will not solve overnight. Complex issues require complex planning, insight, and strategy. They require skilled attorneys who use sophisticated, layered, nuanced approaches to create holistic winning defense strategies, like myself and my other attorneys at Wigell Law Group.

Ratings and Reviews

The National Trial Lawyers
10.0Raymond George Wigell
Raymond George WigellReviewsout of 38 reviews