In the wake of the many allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, victims of such misconduct are coming forward in unprecedented numbers. With the “#MeToo” movement trending on social media, a stunning number have shared their stories, revealing a problem endemic to not just the entertainment industry, but also to the world at large. While perpetrators undoubtedly deserve to face criminal charges for their crimes, victims don’t have to rely solely on a jury to find justice: civil recourse can be used to hold abusers accountable.
In 2010, a nursing student and her friend were drugged and raped by a member of a Saudi prince’s entourage at the Plaza Hotel. The unnamed Jane Doe endured a great deal of suffering after the incident, including a suicide attempt and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. She withdrew from nursing school and lost her job, and has been unable to maintain full-time work since the attack.
Perpetrator Mustapha Ouanes was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his crimes, which included drugging and assaulting the plaintiff and her unnamed friend. The 2012 criminal jury convicted Ouanes on five charges; he was later found liable on several civil counts in a summary judgment in December 2016. U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet of New York awarded the plaintiff $2.25 million in compensatory and punitive damages, writing that, “the sexual violence committed by the defendant undeniably constitutes morally reprehensible or utterly reckless behavior.”
In a social media post, former U.S. Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney took part in #MeToo, sharing her story of sexual abuse by Lawrence G. Nassar, a USA Gymnastics doctor. Maroney wrote, “People should know that this is not just happening in Hollywood. This is happening everywhere. Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse.”
Nassar, like Ouanes, is presently in prison; however, he is also awaiting trial on 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving at least seven victims, and is being sued by over 125 women in civil court. The civil suits are currently in mediation, and Nassar has pleaded “not guilty” to the criminal charges (his current prison sentence is in regard to possession of child pornography, to which he plead guilty).
Weinstein himself may face criminal charges in New York and London, where he is currently under investigation. Whether he is charged or not will depend largely on when the incidents occurred and the statute of limitations in these cities. Allegations against him include rape, forced oral sex, groping, and harassment in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Cannes. If the statute of limitations allows, one or more alleged victims may take Weinstein to court as a means of holding him publicly responsible.
That was Ginger Utley’s primary motivation for bringing a lawsuit against her abuser when Utah’s statute of limitations for child abuse was extended. Jesus Hurtado, Ginger’s neighbor and Sunday school teacher, emotionally and sexually abused her from the ages of 13-18. Ginger told a number of people; however, she says, “…nobody did anything. Nobody called the police.” When law enforcement was finally called and criminal charges were brought against Hurtado, he was allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor lewdness counts. He was eventually sentenced to only 90 days of home confinement, and ordered to pay the costs for Ginger’s therapy (which he never did).
Ginger Utley believes Hurtado’s guilty plea helped her civil case— the public admission enabled her to settle her civil lawsuit quickly. She won an $875,000 settlement, and Hurtado was banned from having unsupervised contact with minors for a decade.
More than the money, however, Utley felt a “huge sense of relief,” in being able to hold Hurtado accountable. She says, “the impact on my life was enormous. I just wanted to say what he had done. I wanted a public way of saying that he did this.”
Victims of abuse often find some measure of solace in civil suits. Publicly holding their abusers accountable provides that sense of relief in being heard and believed. Whether or not any of Weinstein’s alleged victims pursue civil suits against him, anyone who has experienced such abuse should know that justice can be found in civil as well as criminal courts.
Armen Graham, Bryan. “McKayla Maroney Says Sexual Abuse By Team Doctor Started When She Was 13.” The Guardian 18 October 2017.
Grant, Jason. “Woman Raped at Plaza Hotel By Saudi Prince’s Helper Awarded $2.25 Million.” New York Law Journal 12 October 2017.
Miller, Jessica. “How One Woman Sued Her Childhood Sexual Abuser Years Later— And Won— Thanks To A Change In Utah Law.” The Salt Lake Tribune 1 October 2017.
Warner, Kara. “Could Harvey Weinstein Go To Jail? What’s Next in Hollywood Sex Assault Scandal.” People 11 October 2017.