A Look at the Casey Affleck Sexual Harassment Claims From a Legal Standpoint

In light of Casey Affleck’s recent comments about the sexual harassment allegations against him, we thought it was worth looking at how we react when a woman accuses a man of sexual harassment or sexual assault and clearing up a few misconceptions.

More: Why Sexual Assault Needs as Much Attention as Rape

First, let’s take a look at Affleck’s most recent statement. In an interview with the Boston Globe Tuesday morning, he finally broke his silence about the issue, saying:

“I believe that any kind of mistreatment of anyone for any reason is unacceptable and abhorrent, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect in the workplace and anywhere else. There’s really nothing I can do about it, other than live my life the way I know I live it and to speak to what my own values are and how I try to live by them all the time.”

First of all, this statement is a non-statement. It’s basically the equivalent of quoting new parents saying they’re in love with their baby or someone issuing an apology using the phrase, “I’m sorry if you were offended.” We learned nothing from it aside from the fact that Affleck thinks he’s a good person and would like you to think that too.

More: Alcohol Is Never an Excuse for Sexual Assault — Ever

There’s a reason for Affleck’s deliberate opacity, and it ties in nicely with our first misconception.

1. “If the women were telling the truth, they’d be talking about it”

The reason for Affleck’s non-statement is the same reason the two women who made the complaints, Magdalena Górka (whose complaint can be read in full here) and Amanda White (complaint in full here) have remained silent. All parties involved in the complaint are prohibited from commenting on the lawsuit. The women are legally prevented from making statements about either the events leading up to the allegations or the settlement itself.

And while Affleck uses the Boston Globe interview to give the impression that he’s helpless in the whole matter (“There’s really nothing I can do about it”), he is the subject of the complaints and also likely the reason they were settled out of court with the specific directive that no one speak of it ever again.

So the women stay silent, Affleck gets to throw up his hands and play helpless victim and hopefully, everyone just forgets about it and moves on.

2. “If he really did it, wouldn’t they have pressed criminal charges?”

There are many reasons the two women may have chosen to file a lawsuit instead of pressing charges, and none of them speaks to the validity of their complaint.

A legal site explains the difference between the two and allows us to make some inferences about their motivation for doing so.

First of all, the site explains, “Criminal offenses and civil offenses are generally different in terms of their punishment. Criminal cases will have jail time as a potential punishment, whereas civil cases generally only result in monetary damages or orders to do or not do something.”

We don’t have knowledge of the mindset of these women, but while they presumably felt that it was necessary to address Affleck’s behavior in a legal manner, they may not have wanted him to face jail time, either because of their preexisting relationship with him or perhaps because they feared being blacklisted in the tightly knit Hollywood community.

The site goes on to explain that, “The standard of proof is also very different in a criminal case versus a civil case. Crimes must generally be proved ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, whereas civil cases are proved by lower standards of proof such as ‘the preponderance of the evidence’ (which essentially means that it was more likely than not that something occurred in a certain way).”

This is important, especially when considering the nature of the complaints, many of which happened in one-on-one situations or around others who may be unwilling to testify against Affleck.

Remember the power dynamic here, Affleck is a well-known name, a high-profile actor and the director of the film the women worked on. Górka and White, however, have no name recognition and are already working at a disadvantage being women in a vastly male-dominated industry.

3. He’s accused of sexual harassment, not sexual assault

The U.S Equal Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

So while Affleck was accused of sexual harassment, we feel it’s important to discuss sexual assault too, not only because sexual harassment can include unwanted physical or sexual touching, but also because harassment has the potential to escalate into assault.

4. He’s innocent until proven guilty (or “they’re lying for attention”)

In our justice system, yes, absolutely, the accused is innocent until proven guilty; however, this case never went to trial, so a judge and/or jury were never asked to render a verdict. And the reason it didn’t go to trial was because Affleck settled out of court.

Just like the question of why Górka and White chose a lawsuit over criminal charges, we can’t presume to know why Affleck chose to settle the case, but doing so does mean a lower profile, fewer headlines and avoiding the potential of a court rendering a judgment in the plaintiff’s favor.

And as for the lying for attention bit… oh my God, why. Why would any woman do this?

Let’s look at the numbers:

  1. The Harvard Business Review reports, “75% of the women we interviewed mentioned they had been sexually harassed at work….Indeed, a 2015 survey showed that 71% of women do not report sexual harassment, and far fewer bystanders report harassment that they have witnessed.”
  2. Stanford University’s Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN) reports that just 2% of sexual assault and rape allegations are proven false, a percentage that is in line with reports of other crimes. This means that those who report sexual assault are no more likely to be lying than someone reporting a robbery or violent assault, yet we rarely accuse those reporting robberies of doing so for attention.
  3. And while 2 percent of sexual assault allegations are proven false, only 40 percent of sexual assaults are reported.

Guys, fully 75 percent of women say they’ve been sexually harassed at work. This means that while they’re just trying to do their jobs, some douchenugget feels that it’s OK to make crude sexual jokes, suggestive comments about their tits or even touch them without consent. Yet almost no one reports it. And when these actions go unreported, and thus unaddressed, some escalate into full-on assaults and then they’re still overwhelmingly underreported.

Why? Well, just look at how we react when they do.

MAAN explains that sexual assaults are underreported because “victims know that if their claim becomes public, their every behavior will be scrutinized, they will be shamed for their sexual history, and they will be labeled as lunatic, psychotic, paranoid, and manipulative.”

Why would anyone choose this, especially seeing how other high-profile cases have played out (see: Amber Heard and Johnny DeppJian Ghomeshi and Lucy DeCoutere), unless they felt they were standing up for themselves or trying to prevent the same thing from happening to others?

Affleck may have avoided a guilty verdict in court, and we certainly don’t think all assault or harassment allegations should be blindly accepted, but it’s also imperative that we realize that these two women risked their reputations, their careers and perhaps even their future employment potential by bringing their complaints against Casey Affleck. Even just looking at statistical probability alone, it’s unlikely they were lying.

We need to stop supporting those who perpetrate sexual harassment and assault and start supporting victims, especially the ones brave enough to report it.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

celebs sexual assault slideshow
Image: Dennis Van Tine/Future Image/WENN.com


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