The #MeToo movement has sent dozens of once-powerful Hollywood players into exile, but few of them have been placed in handcuffs or jail cells. And it’s increasingly apparent that the lack of criminal charges may remain the norm.
Harvey Weinstein has been charged with sexual assault in New York, and Bill Cosby was sent to prison in Pennsylvania in the year since stories on Weinstein in The New York Times and The New Yorker set off waves of revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood. But those two central figures are exceptions.
A task force launched last November by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to handle the surge in allegations against entertainment figures has taken up criminal cases involving nearly two dozen entertainment-industry figures. None has been charged.
The lack of prosecutions stems from a clash between the #MeToo ethos, which encourages victims to come forward years or even decades after abuse and harassment that they’ve kept private, and a legal system that demands fast reporting of crimes and hard evidence.
22 suspects, charges rejected for most
The task force has considered charges against 22 suspects, including Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, director James Toback and former CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, all of whom have denied engaging in any sex that was not consensual.
Charges have already been rejected for most. Cases involving six suspects, including Weinstein and Spacey, both of whom have multiple accusers, remain open.
It felt therapeutic to tell the authorities, to be able to take it out of my body and out of my mind and report it
– Melissa Schuman, whose case against Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys was rejected
In 14 of the closed cases, charges were declined because the allegations were reported too late and thus outside the statute of limitations. The rest were turned down either for insufficient evidence or because the accuser refused to cooperate with investigators after initially reporting the incidents.
While disappointed in the lack of results, several accusers said they were still glad they talked to police and prosecutors, for a variety of reasons both practical and emotional.
“For me it was not necessarily closure, but one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done for myself,” said Melissa Schuman, whose case dating to 2003 against Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys was rejected over the statute of limitations. “It felt therapeutic to tell the authorities, to be able to take it out of my body and out of my mind and report it.”
Fatima Goss Graves, president of the U.S. National Women’s Law Centre, which oversees the Time’s Up legal defence fund, said for some “the act of reporting, putting it on the record is critical, even if they’re beyond the limitations.”
Creating a welcoming climate to come forward
When law enforcement agencies welcome women to report their experiences, it can eventually result in more prosecutions, she said.
“In too many cases law enforcement has sent a signal that they won’t treat these issues,” Goss Graves said. “If you’ve created a climate and space that is friendly to people coming forward, more people will come forward.”
Carter has denied the allegations from the start. He said through his lawyer when charges were declined that he felt confident there would be no basis for charges and was happy to put the matter behind him. A representative did not respond to a request Friday for further comment.
The task force has been looking at allegations of incidents that are sometimes decades old. One rejected case against Spacey dates to 1992. The allegations against Moonves date to the late 1980s. One case for Toback dates to 1978.
Aside from confirming which cases it is considering and has declined, the district attorney’s office declined comment for this story.
Many accusers whose cases were considered by the task force have filed civil lawsuits that may have more staying power.
Goss Graves said it’s desirable to leave open as many options as possible.
“What accountability and ultimately healing looks like for survivors is going to vary,” she said. “In many ways, we’re not in the middle of this process. We’re in the beginning.”