For the latest edition of In the Lead, we sat down with IWF Southern California member and renowned Human Rights Attorney, Gloria Allred. Ms. Allred joined us in Miami, Florida for the 2018 World Leadership Conference where she took part in the closing luncheon session, The Persister: Relentless & Creative.
You can watch her session here moderated by Alicia Menendez. Read our conversation below.
You were the subject of the Netflix Documentary, Seeing Allred. In the film, you are incredibly candid about your own deeply personal experiences. Was it difficult to share that much of your story? Why did you feel it was necessary?
I did not know those questions would be asked in the film, but I did feel that truth matters and that I could not encourage others to tell the truth about their sexual assaults if I was not willing to do so myself.
You frequently leverage the media and have held emotionally powerful televised press conferences. You used the court of public opinion to successfully press the case again Bill Cosby for over a decade. In the age of social media, allowing yourself to be seen and heard can also open the door to a new level of harassment. Why have you chosen to expose yourself and your clients in such a way?
My clients make the decision as to whether they wish to and are ready to speak truth to power. They know both the benefits and the risks of speaking what they say is the truth about their lives. I am there to support them in appropriate cases. We are active in both the court of public opinion and in courts of law where we assert rights, protect rights and vindicate the rights of our clients. We have won hundreds of millions of dollars for victims who have been courageous enough to fight for their rights and that is why we are the leading private women’s rights law firm in the nation and have been for 42 years.
It seems that women are forced to bear their soul in public in order to be taken seriously. Is there any way to prevent this?
Women are not forced to bear their souls in public. It is a choice that they make. Not all women do so and neither should all women decide that they should be public about what they have suffered. We have represented thousands of victims in confidential settlements. In those cases, our clients have chosen to achieve the best possible outcome through private mediations and in many cases, we achieve the same or better result than we could ever achieve by filing a lawsuit and litigating it in a court of law.
How has your use of the press and the media changed over the arch of your career?
It has not changed. The victims have changed. Women are feeling more empowered than they have ever felt previously. More women are refusing to suffer in silence. For some it is too late to file a lawsuit because of the statute of limitations which is an arbitrary time period set by law but there is no time limit on the exercise of free speech and for some women naming and shaming the perpetrator of the wrong against them is in their mind a way to make the wrongdoer accountable.
In many cases, sexual assault and harassment allegations are challenged by the lack of physical evidence or witness accounts. The burden to come forward and seek justice is primarily with the survivor. How do you weigh a survivor’s rights, against the concept of “innocent until proven guilty?”
The presumption of innocence is a legal presumption that only applies in a court of law. Wrongdoers can also speak out in the court of public opinion and deny what is alleged. Wrongdoers also have the ability to agree that they will not assert a defense of statute of limitations and allow the allegations of the accuser to be decided in a court of law either by a civil jury or a criminal jury. In both courts, they would be entitled to due process and all of the rights and protections that the legal process affords them. The wrongdoers are entitled to due process if they want it but there is no due process on the internet.
As a human rights lawyer, if you had the ability to alter one law or policy what would it be?
We should eliminate the statute of limitations for rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment both in the criminal justice system and the civil justice system. The courthouse door should not be slammed shut in the face of victims. Eliminating the statute of limitations in these cases will provide access to justice for many victims who would otherwise be denied their day in court.
With teenage girls stepping up and speaking out on issues from reproductive rights to gun control, climate change to campus assault, what advice would you give them as they become the next generation of leaders?
Follow what Gandhi suggested, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Always stand up for equal rights and equal protections under the law for women and for minorities.