#Metoo: A modern version of the Salem witch trials?


It’s been a little over a week since the #Metoo campaign found its mojo, prompting social media to erupt in a “girl power” storm of women who decided that enough was enough. I wrote about it in my last column and really had no intention of returning to the same trough so soon.

But I simply can’t ignore what is happening with this sexual assault business, and at the risk of getting more hate mail (and a few timid “attagirls!”) this week’s column is going to be #Metoo 2.1.

Or, as I prefer to call it, Happy Halloween.

About a year ago, I read an amazing book on the Salem witch trials. In the past, I’d thought of the 17th century tragedy whenever there was a fever-pitched series of accusations against priests, day-care center owners and people named Bill. It’s not that the accusations were all lies, or that the accusers all had suspicious motives.

What sent the shiver up my spine was that horrifying feeling of being pulled by a rip current into the deepest end of an ocean, and there were no life rafts strong enough to bring us back to the shores of sanity, clarity and context.

The Salem witch trials showed what happens when people suspend their judgment and allow the mind to be governed by a sense of vengeance. Empathy and compassion are substituted for fairness and common sense, and while we always want to comfort the afflicted, the lines become blurred when society facilitates the creation of avenging angels.

And that’s what I see happening in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein situation. Weinstein is a fiend, a groper, a rapist, repulsive by every possible metric we use to measure human beings. There are others like him, some well-known but most known only to their innocent, low-profile prey. It is right to bring attention to their crimes and make sure that we police these aberrant predators, including those who exploit men and boys. That was my point last week. But it’s starting to get out of hand, and what was once a murmur has turned into an indiscriminate roar.

Just because there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of women coming out to say they were abused, this is not proof that an epidemic exists. It is, however, proof that a sea change has taken place in how we deal with allegations of sexual assault.

To keep within the Halloween horror theme, that razor-edge pendulum is swinging away from disbelief of women to a knee-jerk acceptance that men are predatory creatures. Neither extreme is fair. And both are very, very dangerous.

Now, even the most trivial things are considered worthy of attention, and if you criticize the veracity or weight of the allegations, be ready for the blowback.

On Twitter, someone who called herself an assault victim who counseled rape victims in the past accused me of being a “handmaid” whose happy feminine face covered up for the fascist men. Then, someone emailed to call me shameful because I wasn’t a sympathetic “sister,” and told me that she had spent two decades cheating on her “kind husband” because of abuse-induced low self esteem. I’m shameful, but she’s fornicating. OK.

But nothing tops the woman who said that 89-year-old George H.W. Bush, confined to a wheelchair, touched her from behind and made a dirty joke at a photo op, which traumatized her so much that she waited almost four years to mention it to anyone. Imagine how devastated she would have been if he’d circled her in his motorized Rascal.

The poor man, who probably has no memory of the incident, was forced to apologize, and I’m thinking Barbara is now keeping him tied to a post with one of her longest string of pearls.

Everywhere you look, women are telling tales of assault, as if they were all Stepford Wives formed in the image of Gloria Allred. I remember working at a fast food place in the late ’70s and having a manager tell me that my breasts were smaller than the McNuggets. Not a charmer. But neither was he Jack the Ripper.

And now we’re supposed to sit back and believe that getting poked on the tuckus by an elderly ex-president is newsworthy. I can’t decide whether to laugh or scream.


By Christine M. Flowers

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her email at [email protected].

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