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The Difficulty in Coming Forward with Harassment Claims


Weinstein, Spacey, Seagal – The Difficulty in Coming Forward with Harassment Claims: A Private Investigator’s View.

Hollywood has been shaken up by a wave of sexual harassment allegations against some of its biggest names. This wave of accusations has sparked a conversation about the difficulty victims face in coming forward with harassment claims in the workplace and how those claims can be proven. This is a private investigator’s take on the challenges victims of any form of harassment face and how claims can be strengthened.

In early October, the New York Times published an article detailing claims of sexual assault against women by media mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, the list of powerful men facing allegations has been continuously growing and now includes names such as Kevin Spacey, Oliver Stone, Steven Seagal and Brett Ratner.

Similarly, reports about offenders within the Australian screen industry have been trickling out and reporters have promised to identify those who have hitherto been protected by their power and influence.

Recently, Time Magazine awarded its Person of the Year to “The Silence Breakers”, the women who dared to come forward with their harassment and abuse stories. This award is representative of the weight this movement has acquired as it has snowballed around the globe.

Accusations, however, have been met by scepticism in certain quarters and some have asked about the women, “What did they expect in that situation?” and “Why didn’t they come forward earlier?” In no other form of misconduct is the victim’s motive questioned as intensively as in cases of sexual harassment. Even as the number of complaints about particularly alleged culprits has multiplied, the scrutiny directed towards the women bringing forth claims has remained present.


Sexual Harassment


Sexual harassment is defined by the Australian Human Rights Commission as “any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.” Such acts can sometimes be brushed aside and seen as minor occurrences because they do not necessarily involve a physical act or because there is no definitive evidence available. They are nevertheless diminishing, traumatising and can be hard to prove.

When women do come forward with their claims, they can find that they are not taken seriously or, even worse, they face a backlash at work while their assailants get off scot-free. The Hollywood scandal is a prime example of this kind of work climate. Without proof, claims can be dismissed and treated as he-said-she-said allegations.

Wherever possible, it’s optimal from a strategic perspective to have evidence documented before making an adverse claim against someone. This is true in cheating partner cases, in personal injury surveillance investigations, in workplace investigations and it is true in cases of harassment. Once an accusation is made against a bully, it becomes difficult or impossible to gather more evidence than that which you have available to you at that point in time. If steps are taken prior to the accusation then there is usually a prospect of gathering stronger evidence and that could be the difference in the determination of the claim, in court or in the public arena.

As any lawyer will tell you, ultimately the strength of a claim comes down to evidence. While it may be considered an unusual step by some, victims of any type of harassment or bullying should consider strengthening their case by hiring a private investigator. Private eyes specialise in gathering evidence in very challenging circumstances and are in fact your best option when it comes to gathering and documenting proof. A good lawyer is a must if pursuing a harassment claim but, as some investigators say, “Investigators know more about the law than lawyers know about investigating.”

Evidence that may assist in proving a harassment claim can include diarised or contemporaneous notes of interactions, witness statements, CCTV footage forensically copied, forensic fingerprint or DNA or other physical evidence (in cases of assault), evidence of digital communications, covert video and/or audio evidence of offending behaviour (where lawful), evidence of admissions and possibly other forms of evidence.

As is the case in most investigations, it is important that victims act in a timely manner when trying to obtain proof. Most evidence effectively degrades in some way over time and if claims are left unmade for years or decades, the culprit could be said to have been denied the opportunity to present any evidence that could enable him (or her) to defend the claim.

Reaching out to a private investigator should generally be comforting for victims of harassment or bullying as the victim is a client and has control over the handling of the issue. Confidentiality is guaranteed with a professional private investigator. Most harassment will not be the subject of criminal charges so police departments will usually not assist and will direct victims to lawyers.

Provided you have the patience and wherewithal to instruct an investigator, you can be assured that a proper investigation will be undertaken. There are many considerations in cases of harassment and bullying, not least of which are emotional, power relation and employment issues. Victims ultimately must make the judgement themselves as to the actions they take and we do not purport to offer a comprehensive guide to dealing with such issues. Nevertheless, it is important for people who have been subject to bullying or harassment, especially in the workplace, to take into account the points raised in this article as the adjudication of their claims may depend on them.

A good investigator will take an objective point of view and will play devil’s advocate to help ensure you have all the evidence that can be gathered. Afterwards, it is the claimant’s choice as to what happens with this evidence. They get to determine whether to go to lawyers, the HR department, the police, the media or no one at all. In short, victims can gain back what they often feel they have lost after such an experience: some control over their own life and decision-making process.


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