As a cub reporter I was once sent on a job to meet a fairly well-known sporting pundit who, part way through the interview, thought it appropriate to make a grab for my chest. I responded with a swift stiletto to the shin and an Anglo Saxon reminder to keep his sticky mitts to himself. Assault? Probably. Twenty years later am I still offended by it? Nope.
Now I don’t know the ins and outs of the allegations made against Welsh Assembly member Carl Sargeant (and others) over the last few weeks. One side of the story will only likely now be told and the rest is not for me to guess at. What I can guess at is where we are all headed.
It should go without saying that I am genuinely, truly, sorry for women – and men – who suffer at the cruel and vindictive hands of others. But as the mum of a son who has just entered his teenage years I’m frightened by what awaits him. Shall all his future dates come with a written contract? Will holding hands require a ‘sign here’ clause? Shall he take legal advice before entering McDonalds and offering to buy the apple of his eye a burger? And if these fledgling relationships end, as they generally always do, with one or the other being dumped, what then?
Yes, I can equip him with the tools I think he needs to navigate this next stage of growing up. But I can’t legislate for the cruelty of others. This relentless, vengeful, baying of the ill-informed, social mob calling for heads at every turn is as dark as it is disturbing. And it is destroying lives.
How about, instead, we keep our heads a little and apply common sense to what is quickly becoming an out-of-control, un-winnable battle of the sexes. Applying some level headedness to a 21st century’s problem can help protect us all. And most importantly, it will allow those who have suffered, or are suffering, the right to be heard, properly and appropriately without the background noise of #MeToo. So, how do we fix it?
- Give the accused the same rights of anonymity as the accuser
- Regulate social media in the same way we regulate mainstream media
- Ensure organisations demonstrate a legally-binding duty of care to the accusers and the accused
- If allegations are made the accused should be told, at the very least, what they are with the right to mount a defence.
- Serious allegations should immediately become a police matter with the police allowed to do their job
- All allegations should follow a due process before being publicly released
We need to remember that all sexes are, sadly, capable of causing harm. It is imperative the voices of the abused and assaulted are not drowned out in the clamour to avenge minor slights, real or imagined. For the next generation to have any chance of forming meaningful, respectful relationships we need to make changes now. To our own behaviour and to the law.