It is two years since two women whose accounts of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein kick-started the #MeToo movement.
Just last month, his former assistant and theatre producer Zelda Perkins and Bafta-award-winning actor Rosanna Arquette suggested they believe there were likely more revelations to come about high profile men abusing their positions.
Weinstein will face a criminal trial in 2020 for charges including rape and predatory sexual assault, all of which he has pleaded not guilty to.
Despite the suggestion this could just be the tip of the iceberg, the #MeToo movement has had a far-reaching impact on how industries deal with allegations of abuse.
The term ‘Me Too’ to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault and abuse against women was first coined back in 2006 by the civil-rights campaigner Tarana Burke.
The movement encourages victims to come forward years or even decades after the alleged sexual assault had occurred. These offences, by their very nature often take place in private and without any independent witnesses, meaning that the police have two accounts and them having to choose which one they prefer.
The lapse of time between the offence and the reporting of it often means any potential evidence is no longer available. This brings real difficulties for the accused in defending him or herself.
I have seen in this era of #MeToo both the police and prosecutors approach sexual offences differently. There is a pressure to secure convictions often in the face of unreliable witness statements and often weak evidence which has seen a rise in the number of people being investigated although not necessarily prosecuted for sexual offences.
It is therefore of paramount importance that, if accused, you seek specialist legal advice at an early stage. Most importantly:
- Do not wait for the police to conclude their investigations. You should gather your own evidence where you are able to, including any CCTV, joint communications and any material from social media.
- Start building your own defence from the start of the investigation. The consequences on the accused are severe often resulting in loss of employment, career, family and loss of financial security, not to mention the stress of facing the criminal charges.
Sexual Offences Facts:
What are Sexual Offences?
Sexual offences constitute a broad spectrum of offences which include indecent exposure, indecent assault, grooming, creating and/or distributing indecent images, stalking, harassment, prostitution, an assault by penetration, attempted rape and rape.
Is there a time limit for the Police to investigate the allegation?
There is no time bar on the charges of this nature being brought against you.
Will my identity be protected?
If charged, you will have to appear in Court and no anonymity will be granted to you, unlike your accuser.
What is the penalty for a sexual offence?
In 2014 the Sentencing Council introduced guidelines for all sexual offences and sentences broadly speaking have been increased to impose tougher punishments. Offences range in seriousness, with some being dealt with in the Magistrates and others being too serious and thereby being tried in the Crown Court. The more serious offences such as rape and assault by penetration can attract a maximum of life imprisonment.
Those convicted may also be required to sign the Sex Offenders Register and may also be subject to a Sexual Offenders Prevention Order.
Rachel Fletcher is a partner and head of Slater Heelis’ Crime and Regulatory Team with extensive experience and knowledge in advising upon these cases. For further information please contact Rachel on 0161 672 1544 or by email: [email protected]