When it comes to harassment and abuse, are internal investigations enough?

When it comes to harassment and abuse, are internal investigations enough?
Did these men get justice or protection?

Confession: I gleefully wait for the next episode of MTV's "Catfish." My partner also likes it and makes me wait to watch it with him. It's a very guilty pleasure. Host of Catfish, Nev Schulman, skyrocketed to filmmaking fame with his documentary of the same name that allowed him the clout to create the addictive show. He was recently accused of sexual harassment by a woman who appeared on Catfish in season four.

As someone who believes in the progress being made by the #metoo movement, I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the accuser since historically they have not been given fair treatment or even a voice most of the time. If anything, accusing a man of harassment, assault, or rape more likely leads to doubt, doxxing, character assassination, and generally just more abuse. The internet is not kind to women and especially women who accuse beloved figures of assault. In this particular case, I was disappointed when it was announced that Catfish would go on hiatus, but completely understood and agreed that it should be until they could figure out what happened. Whatever that entails.

A couple of months later, MTV announced that they had performed an internal investigation and had deemed the accusations "not credible." Catfish would be airing again and Schulman moves on with his life as, apparently, will his accuser since there isn't a feasible course of action at that point for her, credible or not.

I didn't think too hard on it and assumed that MTV would have to follow some kind legitimate method for determining the credibility of the accusations. Recently, however, I spied this post from a Facebook friend of mine (blurred for privacy) about Chris Hardwick finally getting justice after his own scandal with accusations from his former girlfriend Chloe Dykstra:

When it comes to harassment and abuse, are internal investigations enough?
Nice to see some what now?

I had also been a fan of Chris Hardwick's work and admired him for his seemingly real "wokeness." I do not know what of that persona is real or not real or what of Dykstra's accusations hold water. But my job in this era is to give her the benefit of the doubt. And I did. Now I find that AMC has similarly cleared Hardwick of all charges based on another internal investigation. Here was the statement:

"Following a comprehensive assessment by AMC, working with Ivy Kagan Bierman of the firm Loeb & Loeb, who has considerable experience in this area, Chris Hardwick will return to AMC as the host of ‘Talking Dead’ and ‘Talking with Chris Hardwick.’ We take these matters very seriously and given the information available to us after a very careful review, including interviews with numerous individuals, we believe returning Chris to work is the appropriate step,” AMC said in a statement.

I realized that this could potentially become a trend — men who are accused of inappropriate behavior who also have the backing of a large media company, could merely hire a legal team to "investigate" and "clear" said celebrity of charges. And apparently, according to my Facebook feed, that is how justice can be served. It can be served by a legal team of a company whose financial interests lay in clearing the celebrity of their crimes so that they can get back to work without guilt.

I don't claim to know anything much about either of these situations and I definitely don't know if the result of this is legitimate, what recourse the victims have, if any, and whether we can all go back to watching Talking Dead and Catfish. I just don't know. But it doesn't feel right that we are so easily finding "finally some justice" in a self-serving investigation which leads to an unofficial case closed.

It doesn't feel right that we are so easily finding "finally some justice" in a self-serving investigation which leads to an unofficial case closed.

In a perfect world, each of the accused would have a fair trial where they are presumed innocent until proven otherwise and the victims get their fair day in court to be heard by open-minded, non-sexist jurors. But we all know that isn't happening anytime soon.

So how do we respond to a "case closed" when the case was heard by nobody on the other side of it? Cases where the very powerful, influential, money-making accused have a hidden cloak of expensive legalese protecting them. When the people accused are popular and easy to love and easy to forgive. I should know, I enjoyed content from both of these men.

I have no answer for this dilemma. And it IS a dilemma. The #metoo movement was finally giving men and women a way to be believed in small, incremental steps. And now there's a loophole that feels weird and wrong and not in step with giving victims a fair shot. But I also know that the accused need a fair shot as well. It's just that in most cases, they receive the only shot. And it seems like another way to allow that to continue happening.

How do you deal with a justice that feels nothing at all like justice?

  1. It's especially suspicious in Hardwick's case because Loeb & Loeb is the official legal counsel to the Hearst family and corporation… the same Hearsts that Hardwick has married into. So that's not shady at all or anything.

    • Exactly! It's just one side with money and major conflicts of interest and another side with just themselves and no recourse. And the acceptance of it as resolved by the public is just troubling. Thanks for your input!

  2. "In a perfect world, each of the accused would have a fair trial where they are presumed innocent until proven otherwise…" Perhaps I'm too caught up in the semantics, because I think I understand the sentiment here, but I take issue with this phrasing.

    "Innocent until proven otherwise" or "innocent until proven guilty" is a poor system for addressing accusations of sexual assault or abuse. It focuses on forcing two people — in this case, a victim/survivor and a(n alleged) abuser/perpetrator — to argue their cases against one another, and a court to pick a side. "Innocent until proven otherwise" also works on the concept of "beyond reasonable doubt."

    The thing with abusers/perpetrators, is that they don't need to rely on sexist judges or juries. They're manipulative by nature, and cover their tracks REALLY WELL. And even for those who don't, it almost doesn't matter, because trauma affects how the memories of the survivor/victim are encoded, stored, and then recalled. Basically, the trauma of sexual assault or harassment fucks with your memory — and your ability to talk about the event(s). So, it's really hard to find someone guilty "beyond a shadow of a doubt" in this system.

    Take my home country of Canada, for instance. In 2014, a man named Jian Ghomeshi (high-powered and well known in our media) was accused of multiple counts of sexual assault, and by multiple women. The more time went on, the more traction the story picked up, the more women came forward. It went to court. But he wasn't charged, because even though the judge believed Ghomeshi was guilty, it couldn't be proved "beyond a shadow of a doubt." He's still "innocent until proven otherwise."

    I don't know the details of the cases you mentioned, but I do know that even if these cases has gone to an actual court of law, chances are good that the same or similar result would have occurred, because the system is not built to support survivors/victims.

    *This is a hella long comment, but as a therapist who works with folks who have experienced trauma, and a survivor myself, this is my soapbox.

    • "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is the standard for conviction of a crime in this county (USA), but that is not the same as "beyond a shadow of a doubt." Reasonable doubt is actually quite a low standard, as anyone involved in the criminal justice system is aware. I have never heard "shadow of a doubt" used in a legal context, but I expect that is considered an impossibly high standard.

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