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Ghislaine Maxell, the socialite and long time associate of the financier, late Jeffrey Epstein, has been convicted of recruiting underage girls for the latter. This high profile and keenly watched trial is also notable for the effect it would have on the #MeToo movement and its impact on other victims of sexual harassment. Indeed, the conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell should spur other women to come forward and more importantly, pursue their perpetrators till justice is served. The last point, for me, is the most important takeaway of this case involving the high and the mighty i.e., not letting the momentum generated by the #MeToo movement dissipate as well as ensuring that cases go to trial and bring closure to the victims and their families. While the case involving Ghislaine Maxwell generated prime time media attention as it involved the Who’s Who of American elite, there are countless other cases which do not receive the same kind of coverage and hence, there is a reason to feel hopeful that victims of sexual harassment can draw inspiration from this case and fight for justice.
Moreover, the #MeToo movement should not be a passing trend or yet another “viral” phenomenon, which after the initial euphoria and the combined efforts of its proponents, is quickly forgotten, swept away in the ebb and flow of social media. In other words, the #MeToo movement should be revived and kept going now that it is clear that there can be convictions and closure for the victims. Most importantly, the “learned helplessness” of those being subject to harassment and the inability to speak out due to the perception that their complaints would not be heeded or would be covered up should end. In addition, it is not only important for women to “come out” with their accounts of sexual harassment, but to pursue their accusations to the logical end. I know that this sounds easier than done, but if not anything, Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction can serve as an example of how victims can be heard and justice served.
Having said that, Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial was not without its share of highs and lows. To start with, the actual trial was a long time in coming, considering that the late Jeffrey Epstein, was being pursued by law enforcement agencies for more than a decade and more. Moreover, the circumstances in which he was reported to have committed suicide as well as the innumerable “delays” in commencing proceedings against Maxwell, apart from the duration of the trial itself, indicates how hard it is for victims of sexual harassment and the cases involving them to come to their logical end. Indeed, there are many moments during the last decade or so when it seemed as though Epstein, first, and Maxwell, next, would not only walk free, but would also continue their “high life” as year after year passed, with little signs of any punitive action against them. This is the impunity and brazenness that was and continues to be in display as far as cases of sexual harassment by the “powerful and the mighty” are concerned.
However, the #MeToo movement was a bold and courageous “coming out” event for Millions of women worldwide and there is no reason why it should stop at just accusations. The true spirit of the moment would only be served if the “wheels of justice” move, albeit slowly, and there is a sense of taking the matters to the end. In the words of Barack Obama, “the moral arc of the universe bends, and it bends towards justice”. So, there is no reason for any women who reported instances of harassment, either online or in their workplaces, to feel as though they might not be served well by the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary and instead, keep fighting the “good fight” till there is closure. For all the women who are reading this, let Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction be the catalyst to keep at it and persist until the very end. To conclude, this is a “turning point” in the #MeToo movement and hopefully, a turn for the better for the “silent majority” of women who continue to be harassed in workplaces, homes, and in public settings.
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