Legal Barriers For Victims Coming Forward in the Wake of #MeToo 

By: Hunter Grolman


In October of 2017, news broke that over the past three decades, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had been accused multiple times of sexually harassing actresses who worked on his movies.[1]  As the story unfolded and more details emerged, it became clear that the common element linking the allegations together was an abuse of power; essentially, Weinstein would take advantage of young actresses’ inexperience and desire to break into the film industry to make them feel as if they had no other choice than to go along with his unwanted advances.[2]  The accusations leveled against him ranged from inappropriate touching in the workplace to rape.[3]  In the months following the exhaustive coverage of this scandal, other people in the film industry began speaking out about harassment at the hands of other figures.[4]  As actors with large platforms already available to them, each new accusation garnered huge amounts of press coverage. People in other industries began speaking out and a movement began to gather steam under the banner of the hashtag “#MeToo” on social media.[5]  Nearly half a year after the first Weinstein story, the ultimate direction of the movement is still uncertain, but to many, it feels like a permanent cultural shift has occurred.

The men who are being named, some of whose behavior had been an open secret in their respective industries for years, are actually facing real-world consequences: Harvey Weinstein was fired from his own company; Matt Lauer lost his job as host of “Today;” Kevin Spacey was edited out of a movie he’d already filmed and replaced with another actor.[6]  There has been backlash to the swiftness of these repercussions, and then a backlash to the backlash, in the familiar pattern of discourse in the age of social media.[7]  What has remained constant, however, is the fact that almost every consequence facing these men is happening on a professional or social level. Harvey Weinstein is potentially facing criminal charges, and Larry Nassar, the doctor for the USA Gymnastics team, was recently sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for repeated sexual abuse of the young athletes in his care – but these cases are the exception rather than the rule.[8]

The legal system has proven to be unequipped to handle the flood of sometimes decades-old accusations. Often, by the time a victim comes forward and reports her harassment to law enforcement, the statute of limitations for bringing a criminal case has already run its course.[9]  There are also time limits on filing a discrimination claim with the EEOC.[10] Generally, a person experiencing sexual harassment at work must file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days.[11] However, if a state or local agency enforces a either a state or local law that prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, the deadline extends to 300 calendar days.[12]If a victim does decide to file a civil suit, the long and intrusive court process may prove frustrating and re-traumatizing, and there is no guarantee of success in the courts.[13]

However, various parts of the movement are working to address these concerns. The National Women’s Law Center has created the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund to assist victims with the cost of pursuing workplace harassment suits, and has seen a huge swell of support already.[14] Legal representation of the kind provided by the Defense Fund can make an enormous difference to someone pursuing legal remedies for harassment. In recent years, many states have begun to extend, or eliminate altogether, statutes of limitation for sex offenses.[15] In such states, a victim of sexual assault, and potentially sexual harassment, would be able to report the crime to police even if the window for reporting to the EEOC has closed. As feminist scholar Catherine MacKinnon notes, the cultural shift currently playing out might ultimately be the impetus for legislatures prioritize laws that take victims’ experiences more into account.[16] If that is the case, people affected by harassment may have access to better legal remedies sooner than anticipated.


[1] See Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers For Decades, N.Y. Times (Oct. 5, 2017), (detailing several of the allegations against Weinstein).

[2] See Ronan Farrow, From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories, New Yorker (Oct. 23, 2017), (explaining Weinstein’s pattern of continued abuse and the ways in which other people in the film industry helped him cover up his behavior).

[3] Id.

[4] Rebecca Traister, We Are All Implicated In the Post-Weinstein Reckoning, The Cut (Nov. 12, 2017, 9:05 P.M.),

[5] Id.

[6] See Brooks Barnes, Harvey Weinstein, Fired on Oct. 8, Resigns From Company’s Board, N.Y. Times (Oct. 17, 2017),; Paul Farhi, ‘Today’ Show Host Matt Lauer Fired After Claims of ‘Inappropriate Sexual Behvavior’, Wash. Post (Nov. 29, 2017),; Jason Guerrasio, Replacing Kevin Spacey in Ridley Scott’s New Movie Will Cost Millions, Business Insider (Nov. 11, 2017, 11:25 A.M.),

[7] Compare Katie Roiphe, The Other Whisper Network, Harper’s (Mar. 2018), with Rebecca Traister, No One Is Silencing Katie Roiphe, The Cut (Feb. 6, 2018, 10:05 A.M.),

[8] Eric Levenson, Larry Nassar Sentenced to Up To 175 Years In Prison For Decades of Sexual Abuse, CNN (Jan. 24, 2018, 9:29 P.M.),

[9] Jessica Contrera, After ‘Me Too,’ Women Want Justice. Lawyers Have Bad News For Them., Wash. Post (Feb. 4, 2018),

[10] 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11 (2018); How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination, EEOC, (last visited March 2, 2018).

[11] Id.

[12] Time Limits For Filing A Charge, EEOC, (last visited March 2, 2018) (explaining that in cases of  ongoing harassment, the charge must be filed within the time limit after the last incident of harassment, but incidents outside the time limit will also be considered).

[13]  Contrera, supra note 9.

[14] Erin Nyren, Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund Has Raised $20 Million, Received 1,000 Help Requests, Variety (Feb. 5, 2018, 9:33 P.M.),

[15] State by State Guide on Statutes of Limitations, RAINN, (last visited March 2, 2018).

[16] Catharine A. MacKinnon, #MeToo Has Done What the Law Could Not, N.Y. Times (Feb. 4, 2018),