BOSTAN – Bill Cosby was released from prison when his sentence for using drugs and assaulting a woman was overturned. Apartmentback Dashon Watson has signed a record $ 230 million contract despite an investigation into allegations that he attacked 22 women. Renowned chef Mario Battali was acquitted this week just on the second day of a sexual assault trial in Boston.
Nearly five years since the beginning of the #MeToo era, former prosecutors, legal experts and victims’ advocates have argued that dealing with sexual abuse cases has been no easier than retribution, which has sparked a barrage of accusations against powerful, seemingly untouchables.
Cases like Batali, if nothing else, confirm that the criminal justice system remains an “extremely imperfect tool” to meet the needs of survivors, said Emily Martin, vice president of the National Women’s Legal Center in Washington, D.C. Colombia. group.
“Failure to reach a criminal conviction does not mean that there was no abuse or that it was normal,” she said. “It will often be extremely difficult to prove sexual misconduct beyond a reasonable doubt, especially given gender stereotypes that make many people especially distrustful when women share their experiences of sexual violence.”
Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Jan Polumbaum, who helped prosecute Batali, declined to comment specifically on Wednesday’s case, but said sexual violence cases are among the most difficult to prosecute.
“Victims of sexual violence are still trusted less than other victims of crime,” he said. “We always struggle with this idea. Part of it is public relations, part is the private nature of the crime in most cases. “
Accusing a person of wealth or fortune only exacerbates the problem because of increased public attention and closer attention to the victim’s alleged motives, Polumbaum said.
“We are not afraid to start difficult cases if they are supported by evidence,” he added. “And we hope that the survivors also don’t mind coming forward.”
Batali’s case also reinforces the importance of trusting the prosecutor in a misconduct case, especially if there is no additional evidence or witnesses to substantiate the claims, says Lori Levenson, a former California attorney general who is now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. .
Former Food Network person Batali, 61, has been accused of aggressively kissing and touching a woman during a selfie at a bar in 2017. The Boston prosecutor’s office relied heavily on photos taken at the bar that night, and on the testimony of a now 32-year-old software company employee who accused him of misconduct.
But Batali’s lawyers clarified in the woman’s unfinished civil lawsuit against Batali, which claims more than $ 50,000 in damages, and about her recent admission that she tried to step down as a juror in another criminal case, claiming to be clairvoyant and, in a separate incident fake documents for rent so as not to pay $ 200 for the gym.
“These things will never be easy,” Levenson said. “But even in the #MeToo era, you need reliable victims.”
Levenson hopes Batali’s verdict will serve as a warning reminder to survivors that they will always meet higher standards, especially in high-profile cases.
“In these cases, there is more temptation to deviate from the course, and by doing so, you are undermining the credibility of your cause,” Levenson said. “The whole character of the celebrity makes the victims do things like offer to sell their story, demand money or somehow sensationally do what happened.”
But Stuart Ryan, a former assistant district attorney in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, who helped prosecute Cosby, argued that a person who has experienced sexual abuse, also seeking damages in a civil lawsuit, should be treated no differently than anyone else. they are the driver who sued the defendant. they face criminal charges.
He also stressed that the number of false reports of sexual violence is “minute” compared to the “much higher percentage of survivors” who never report the attack.
“One of the reasons, unfortunately, is the tactics used here to question the survivor’s motives with questions that have nothing to do with whether sexual violence really took place,” Ryan said of Batali’s defense strategy.
Batali’s acquittal goes hand in hand with another high-profile #MeToo case in Massachusetts, which collapsed due to problems with the prosecutor.
In 2019, prosecutors were forced to drop an indecent attack and charges against actor Kevin Spacey after his teenage prosecutor refused to testify that the Star of the House of Cards touched him while working as a fighter at a Nantucket bar.
Meanwhile, actor Cuba Gooding Jr. is ready to escape jail after pleading guilty last month to a violent kiss with a worker at a New York nightclub in 2018.
Even the groundbreaking verdict #MeToo of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2020 could be questioned, and a New York court is expected to rule on his appeal soon.
“Sometimes people think it’s after Weinstein’s trial and the belief that we’re in a different time,” said Michelle Simpson Tugel, a Dallas lawyer who represented gymnasts who abused former U.S. gymnast Larry Nasar and other victims.
“People are definitely more knowledgeable and survivors are more supportive,” she said. “But we never see a level of responsibility, especially for people who are very rich, very powerful and well-known to the public.”
Associated Press reporters Merrickler Dale of Philadelphia, Michael Sisak of New York and Alanna Darkin Richard of Boston contributed to the story.
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