#metoo, aziz ansari and justice

Comedian and television star Aziz Ansari has a new Netflix special. This is notable because he was accused of sexual misconduct. Now, about a year later, he is on a “come back” and appears on the world’s leading television streaming platform. Ansari’s return, and the return of others accused of misconduct like Louis C.K., raises a hard question that has no easy answer. When is the accused allowed to continue on with their public life? The answer is very important because it helps one understand how #metoo relates to justice.

First, you have to recognize that #metoo is a form of justice in the sense that people who have been harmed are seeking an acknowledgment of harm and, in many cases, they want others to sanction the accused. Thus it is similar to criminal justice, where we want the state to administer punishments, or civil justice, which is when we seek compensation from the accused.

This first point is fairly intuitive, but the second point is not: #metoo does not have a agreed upon notion of procedural justice. Of course, if some misconduct is extreme, such as in Bill Cosby’s or Harvey Weinstein’s case, prosecutors can bring up criminal charges. But what about a case like Ansari? The accusation was made by an anonymous person and even some feminist writers have written that the behavior described was bad and harmful yet “normal” within the context of current American culture (see here for a news write up that discusses Jessica Valenti’s response).

This is why the distinction is important. If a behavior is judged within the criminal or civil justice systems, then you have some sense of when things are “over.” There is a set of procedures, good and bad, for processing the claim. Once the process is concluded and if the claim is upheld, more procedures kick in to set the parameters of punishment. People do the time, the result is public, and people in the future can decide if they want to interact with that person.

In contrast, consider a case like Ansari’s. The case was made in public but no claim for restitution was made. Both agreed that the event happened but differ on its character. Like many people, I have a presumption in favor of the accuser. At the same time, it is not clear what justice demands. In civil and criminal cases, we have many procedures and rules that try to balance the rights of plaintiffs and defendants. What would be the right procedure in the Ansari case? If you believed the accuser, how much restitution would be appropriate? How should the public respond? Should Ansari be permanently banned from performance? For one year? Forever?

At this point, you might think that I would throw up my hands and say the situation is hopeless. I don’t think that is warranted. Instead, we should realize that we are in a middle of a massive, society level transformation of gender relations and that will require a lot of experimentation. It is no longer the case that women could be harassed and little could be done. Because of that, we need to develop good practices, formal and informal, for adjudicating misconduct claims in a world with a lot more gender parity. This is similar to how criminal procedure began to develop hundreds of years ago as Western societies tried to improve and rationalize criminal justice.

I’ll finish by focusing on one aspect of #metoo and justice that I think often gets overlooked – restorative justice for victims. The sorts of sanctions that we are talking about are punitive – they try to hurt the predator. However, justice might also be accomplished by trying to make the victim whole again. We see little discussion of how that might happen.

For example, professor Roland Fryer was recently punished by his university, Harvard, by a two year suspension without pay and the shut down of his lab.  That definitely hurts Fryer but how does that bring back the career of students he may have harassed out of the academic profession? Even a cash settlement may not be proper restitution for a lost career. Thus, I think the next step is both procedural and conceptual. Not only do we need better norms for responding to claims of harm, but we should also expand our view of what happens post-claim: predators need to be deterred and sanctioned, but we should also think about mechanisms for promoting restorative justice.



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Written by fabiorojas

July 12, 2019 at 12:48 am

Posted in uncategorized

11 Responses

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  1. The idea of restorative justice is definitely important. Women lose years of their lives due to harassment. Those years can’t be gotten back, not personally or professionally. A ten year gap in employment history is very hard to make up. Women shouldn’t have to feel ashamed or feel the need to hide what happened to them. Yet, a woman who explains an incomprehensible career detour as being caused by harassment will most likely be seen as a trouble-maker, drama queen, or worse. It would be interesting to see the income levels of women who have suffered from harassment. The consequences last a lifetime. Restorative justice could attenuate that.



    July 12, 2019 at 9:13 pm

  2. metoo is a moral panic and witch hunt. Harvard’s kangaroo court treatment of Fryer is disgraceful. metoo’s undermining of due process is much worse than McCarthyism.



    July 15, 2019 at 11:52 pm

  3. That’s not the point of the post. But if you’re worried about undermining due process, read this article which actually underlines why #metoo is necessary. If voices aren’t being heard by the legal channels you have to expect people to take their voices to the public square. And if that hurts some innocent people, then let those people in turn ask for justice. However, the vast majority of these claims are founded and it is good that they are finally being heard. This article is not directly related to this subject but when we still hear things like this “Officers continue to tell him they think that many women lie about being raped, and that their claims aren’t worth investigating.” we still have a long way to go before movements such as #metoo are no longer necessary.



    July 16, 2019 at 8:46 am

  4. I find it difficult to believe that there are serious people arguing in good faith that Aziz Ansari should have suffered any professional consequences whatsoever for having a one night stand that the other party regretted. It’s a reflection of the contradictions of consent culture that consent is not just considered a cast iron defence, full stop. Women are infantilised as incapable of making their own decisions and dealing with the consequences of their own choices.

    Putting Ansari in the same category as Louis C.K. just beggars belief. Sociologists should be able to distinguish deviant and non-deviant behaviour well enough to at least see that people will actually condemn C.K.’s behaviour, while the attempt to associate Ansari with #metoo just provided the backlash with a counter narrative on a platter.

    “Now people are trying to turn being bad at sex into a career ender.”


    Anonymous Coward

    July 17, 2019 at 6:51 am

  5. @proflaizeau
    “And if that hurts some innocent people, then let those people in turn ask for justice.” That is the opposite of due process and often an argument made by witch hunters.

    “the vast majority of these claims are founded”. You have absolutely no basis for this claim. That you think an The Atlantic article can supply evidence of any kind beggars belief.

    Liked by 1 person


    July 17, 2019 at 8:03 pm

  6. The passive voice construction in that first paragraph points to one problem in all this. “When is the accused allowed to continue on with their public life?” Who is going to allow or disallow Louis CK or Aziz or other offenders from plying their trade?


    Jay Livingston

    July 19, 2019 at 3:09 am

  7. @ Jay Livingston

    What offense did Aziz commit?



    July 20, 2019 at 11:44 pm

  8. @jay you can google his name with “sexual” and it will come right up. The short version is people agreeing about who did what but disagreeing about who wanted what and how consent is enacted. It provoked a lot of discussion when it came out.



    July 22, 2019 at 1:37 pm

  9. @jj I wasn’t saying that it was due process. I was simply pointing out that the legal system often fails people who report sexual assault and that is why they took to publicly expressing their anger with #metoo That people are upset that due process isn’t being respected for some and not upset that too many victims are not being heard or believed is a double standard. Of course it’s not due process. None of this is right. But as I said above, until victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment get justice themselves they can and should make their voices heard in any way possible. Maybe it will help fix a system that has failed sexual assault victims for too long. And if you’re troubled by The Atlantic article, you can find hundreds of scholarly articles and legal reports that say the same things. Sexual assaults are grossly under reported and far too many victims who do report the assaults do not find justice and are too often accused of lying or fabricating. I’ll leave it to you to do a quick search to find sources that are reputable enough to convince you of the facts if you want.



    July 22, 2019 at 1:52 pm

  10. @proflaizeau

    You clearly don’t know what due process is. Due process is a civil right that protects accused people from, among other things, wrongful criminal convictions; hence the fundamental legal principle that someone is innocent until proven otherwise beyond reasonable doubt .

    That you do not have any substantial evidence or arguments is obvious from comments like:
    “you can find hundreds of scholarly articles and legal reports that say the same things.” I doubt it.

    “I’ll leave it to you to do a quick search to find sources that are reputable enough to convince you of the facts if you want.” This demonstrates that you do not have the faintest idea about principles of evidence based arguments, whether legal or otherwise. The burden of proof is on you, it is not my responsibility to find evidence to support your sophomoric and hyperbolic claims.

    As Marie Gottschalk shows in The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in America, illiberal and punitive attitudes like yours that victims’-rights group in general and feminist groups in particular began promoting in the in the late 1960s to demand for “justice” for crime victims played a crucial role in generating mass incarceration.



    July 29, 2019 at 4:06 am

  11. I understand what due process is. It’s a comment on a blog post. Not a court case nor a scholarly article I am trying to get published. I invited you to look for articles yourself if it upsets you so. The burden truly is not on me. I’m not saying anything so preposterous nor inflammatory. Also, my original interest was on the idea of restorative justice which, it seemed to me, was the topic of the blog post. I think people getting angry and attacking complete strangers on social media is actually part of the problem. I definitely have other things to do. But thank you for the reference. I’ll have a look one day if I ever need it. I wish you a good day.



    July 29, 2019 at 4:55 am

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