October marks the second anniversary of the #MeToo movement’s viral explosion—and two years of momentous change inspired by courageous women who told stories of sexual harassment and assault that stemmed from the unfettered abuse of power.
#MeToo was the social media equivalent of yelling from the rooftops, and it created a movement. Many women were finally able to end years of silent suffering, though it is too late for some to hold their abusers accountable. Other victims will have their days in court, and that’s where I come in. Representing those victims is my vocation and my passion.
I’m a victims’ rights lawyer because I’m a survivor of rape, sexual harassment in law school and at work, discrimination based on my gender and retaliation based on complaints of mistreatment. Even now, though I have my own law firm and am a leader in my profession, I still deal with sexual harassment and sexism. My law firm in downtown Los Angeles is full of women warriors, each of whom has her own story of survival. Together, we use our personal experiences to fight for victims. We never represent the perpetrators.
Long before the outcry against sexual harassment had a hashtag, my firm was bringing such cases against powerful men and organizations—both world-famous and unknown. Most recently, my firm’s high-profile clients have included Harvey Weinstein’s former personal assistant, Sandeep Rehal, as well as an actor who claims he victimized her. I also represent a male massage therapist suing Kevin Spacey for sexual battery.
Eradicating sexism, stereotypes and victim-bashing may be impossible in a society so historically invested in protecting men’s power, but the #MeToo movement’s activism has facilitated progress—most notably, in changes to the law, so that victims get a fairer shake.
In California, I was thrilled to help enact a law that bans secret settlements once a public filing about a claim is made. The new law prevents serial perpetrators and their employers from hiding behind confidential settlements. Other legislation clarifying that, for California employees, a hostile work environment is created when harassment sufficiently offends, humiliates, distresses or intrudes upon an employee to the extent that it disrupts her emotional tranquility, affects her ability to perform her job or interferes with and undermines her personal sense of well being also passed, as did prohibitions against sexual harassment that now apply in the venture capital, actor/director and legislative contexts. We’ve even lengthened the statute of limitations on civil sexual battery claims from two to ten years, and bills extending the deadline to file a sexual harassment claim and banning employers from forcing employees, as a condition of hiring, into agreeing to arbitration before any dispute arises at work are currently awaiting Governor Newsom’s signature.
We are far from done. One mediator recently told me that, although sexual harassment cases continue to be resolved in this #MeToo era, the accused are spitting mad and continue to yell about the “bitches” who exploit them by bringing claims. Another fellow woman trial lawyer who obtained a large verdict for one of her firm’s clients, and afterwards learned that certain male lawyers claimed the verdict was due to her male co-counsel’s work, was demoralized and asked for my advice. I told her that I’ve been dealing with this kind of sexism for more than two decades, and the secret is perseverance.
Change comes when brave women and men call out and declare that they will no longer tolerate workplace harassment, discrimination, retaliation and abuse. Our collective activism must continue. Don’t be distracted by your detractors. Don’t let others’ prejudices and ignorance define you or diminish your greatness. Don’t stop supporting each other.
And most of all, don’t quit using your voice for change.