Sexual Misconduct: A Legal and Social Maze
Media coverage of sexual misconduct/harassment is everywhere. The major news networks – MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, WGN – are not only reporting on past and the latest allegations, but have also assembled panels of “experts” to voice opinions on what all of this means. Social media, of course, is awash in opinions, and there are dozens of new thinkpieces every day on various cultural and news blogs. Experienced sex crime attorneys know how to assert control over this dialogue and media morass; at Wigell Law Group, we have long-standing relationships with journalists and reporters in social, print, and television media that help us do so and get the individual’s perspective out to the masses. This is crucial to provide a forum for healing and to protect our clients’ rights.
Sexual misconduct has significant implications on our social culture and our interpretation of our past social interactions. Flirtation is a part of normal romantic interactions, and is now being viewed through a very focused lens- current and retroactive. The environment of sexual misconduct/harassment is causing many people to look back on their own experiences and think that perhaps they might have been victims as well.
And as we can see from the reports about men like Brett Kavanaugh, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, George Takei, Russell Simmons, Kevin Spacey, Ed Westwick, Ben Affleck, Pixar’s John Lasseter, Roy Moore, Jeffrey Tambor, Lena Dunham, Brett Ratner, Al Franken, Louis CK, George H.W. Bush, and Richard Dreyfuss. There are surely more to come, events from many years ago can resurface, recontextualized. There will be very public reckonings.
This environment is affecting our future social interactions. Many would seem far more reluctant to report or confront. All of these implications are noteworthy.
What is not a focus but rather a legal and social maze is the ways individuals involved can deal with the decision to report, confront or respond.
Allegations and accusations of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, are seldom without disagreements. For example, many of those accused suggest a consensual context; they also confuse actual with legal guilt. The accuser and the accused are in diametrically opposed positions, with one saying that misconduct occurred and the other either maintaining it did not or arguing the interpretation of the conduct in question. Even the terms used prior to determining actual or legal guilt can at times be prejudicial. Words like “perpetrator” and “victim” are very loaded and charged.
There is also room for error, without denigrating the suffering of those who feel or were I fact wronged. False or at the very least exaggerated accusations, forced confessions wrenched from the accused, and motives rooted in revenge are prevalent. Shame and embarrassment, fear of reprisals, and the unfounded hope of reconciliation are all also prevalent. Concerns that without collaboration the victim’s outcry will be ignored.
You Deserve to Be Heard
Clearly all victims should be heard. Each side, the one accuser and the one being accused deserves to have an experienced attorney represent their interests and fight on their behalf. Only after a balanced, calm, and holistic approach to the investigation can justice occur.
Separate from the court of public opinion is the concept of legal analysis. Unlike the media, which can be well intentioned or self-righteous, legal analysis should not immediately jump to a conclusion. It should not assume a conclusion and then require an immediate remedy, i.e., punishment, money damages, a loss of contractual rights (getting fired, losing endorsements, being pressured to resign), etc.
Legal analysis, instead, is a process. First, the facts must be determined: what really did happen and what is either true, false or an exaggeration. A complete and detailed investigation must take place. Then, the law must be applied to those case facts. There are many sub-steps in this process. After all, complex questions and situations require complex and thoughtful analysis.
Facts are unique and case specific. This requires a complete and detailed investigation first by the advocate for the accuser, then by the advocate for the accused, and finally by neutral and objective third parties.
Sexual misconduct/harassment can be both a civil and criminal offense. Civil law protects and allows individuals to sue (to file a lawsuit) that asserts a claim. Money damages is the primary, but not sole, remedy in civil actions. Criminal law, on the other hand, seeks to protect society (all individuals) from the wrongdoing of a specific individual or corporation. Imprisonment, restitution to the individual victim (to “make that individual whole”) and fines are the primary remedies in criminal actions.
Two of the most commonly asked questions in sexual misconduct/harassment matters are regarding the proper venue and the statute of limitations. Venue is where (location) the action can be filed. Although this is a complex question, it is most often answered by determining where the wrongdoing took place and where the victim and/or accuser reside.
Statute of Limitations (S/L) questions are governed by local law and by proper venue. Civil and criminal S/L are governed by different laws (called statutes), and many times are different. Each state has its own S/L. Please use the links below to access additional information regarding Illinois statutes.
720 ILCS 5/3-6 governs the criminal statute of limitations on many offenses including sex-related offenses – regarding both adult and minors. This also covers offenses such as child pornography and prostitution. See specifically 720 ILCS 5/3-6(j)(1), which states that when the victim is under 18 years of age at the time of a sexual offense, a prosecution may be commenced at any time. This means there is no S/L.
735 ILCS 5/13-202.2 governs the S/L in sexual misconduct involving children, or those under the age of 18. Specifically, 735 ILCS 5/13-202.2(d) states that the S/L does not run during a time that the minor is abused (threatened, intimidated, manipulated, or the victim of fraud perpetrated by the abuser), and that the S/L runs only after the minor reaches the age of 18, and if the person is under a legal disability at the time they turn 18, the S/L does not run until the disability is removed.
720 ILCS 5/11-1.80 is the civil statute for sex crimes, and explains the civil liability that those convicted of a criminal sexual offense are exposed to.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What should a victim do?
- To whom should a victim report the wrongdoing?
- How should the report about the wrongdoing be transmitted?
- If confronted, what should the accused do? How should he or she respond?
- Is alerting the media a good first step?
- Is an in-person confrontation with the accused a good idea?
- What is the value of the claim? From the victim’s perspective? From the perspective of the accused? Whose perspective controls?
Only an experienced local attorney can answer these questions. This is not simple math; it is not 1+1 = 2. Complex questions such as these demand complete, detailed analysis. At Wigell Law Group, we have performed this analysis many many times with particular attention to nuance and implications.
As a sampling of my work, over the past 40+ years I have worked with victims, championing many high profile sex abuse, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment victims and an occasionally the accused. That is correct: I have represented people on both sides of the wrongdoing. Good lawyering requires an understanding of both sides of a position. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons, the leverage points, the deal-making and deal-breaking points, the negotiation options, and the strategies is essential.
I have represented high profile victims and everyday victims who are accusing people in the political, corporate, theatrical, entertainment, professional sports, academic, fine art, and religious communities.
The victims I have championed have been from many different demographic groups: minors, majority-aged, older, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transgender), etc.
The accused are sometimes in positions of trust over the victims, which creates a charged environment and requires extra care and attention to detail. These relationships include supervisor and employee, corporate officers and supervisors, therapists and patients, dentists and patients, medical doctors and patients, teachers and students, school administrators and employees, mentors and mentees, religious leaders and followers, and more.
Sometimes, the report was of a recent wrongdoing; more often than not, the occurrences were a few years or even decades ago. Older cases can be based on triggered memories, repressed memory syndrome (a topic that remains contentious and hotly debated in the medical and psychiatric community), or triggered by an event that relates to the individual’s PTSD. This adds levels of complexity and layers to the situation that requires an even more meticulous and holistic strategy.
I have also represented clients in both civil and criminal cases. Knowledge of the two very different and distinct areas, as well as the interplay between them, is crucial for anyone who wants his attorney to maximize his position and limit his exposure. There are also different kinds of criminal cases in which these situations arise; I have successfully represented people during investigations as well as in cases that were charged at the state and federal level.
Why didn’t you know about this? Why didn’t the media feature these victories?
Because they were never brought to the media’s attention, or because it wasn’t the socially encouraged viewpoint.
In some of these cases, the victims wanted a confrontation with the accused. We accomplished that via personal meetings and significant money settlements. Abusers also wanted closure, so they did whatever was necessary to respectfully compensate the victims, both emotionally and financially.
Considering the current environment, the concept that accusations may be true, false, or exaggerated, merits careful thought. We must also look at various levels of political corruption, including on the municipal, state, federal, and even school district levels. In addition to this, there is corporate embezzlement, involving hundreds to millions of dollars, all the way from simple out-of-the-cash-drawer matters to complex schemes involving multi-level planning, sophisticated tax schemes, sophisticated accounting anomalies, sophisticated forensic reconstructions, and more.
I am skilled at representing individuals involved in these matters, on multiple levels and from multiple positions and perspectives. These are complex issues that, despite the slew of recent firings and resignations and loud condemnations, our society will not solve overnight. Complex issues require complex planning, insight, and strategy. They require skilled attorneys who use sophisticated, layered, nuanced approaches to create holistic winning strategies, like myself and my other attorneys. Raymond Wigell of Wigell Law Group has the experience, sensitivity, and legal perspective to maximize and protect your interests.