Mar 3, 2021
The words “Me Too” have taken quite the journey in the American lexicon – from their first use as a spark for social change in activist Tarana Burke’s 2006 MySpace campaign against sexual assault, to Alyssa Milano’s viral tweet in 2017 that fanned the flames leading to a massive outpouring of solidarity among sexual assault survivors worldwide who took their stories public. Now, more than three years later, it’s clear that the fire is still burning, as survivors from all walks of life continue to process deeply personal experiences with sexual assault and, eventually, seek out justice and a path to healing on their own terms by coming forward.
Recent stories coming to light of high-profile women’s experiences with sexual assault have led some to speculate whether a second wave of the #MeToo movement is gaining momentum. Regardless of what is yet to come, numerous accounts from women coming forward this year demonstrate that for these sexual assault survivors, time may have passed but the trauma inflicted continues to reverberate despite any outward appearances of confidence and success. While a fear of retaliation from an abuser can effectively silence many of the victims of sexual violence, the desire to help other women avoid the same tragic situations is also proving to be a driving force in a continuing Me Too era.
On February 1, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-known to many by her initials, AOC-began an Instagram Live seated before a blank white wall. The candid video would last almost 90 minutes, during which time she would describe in harrowing detail her efforts to avoid the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. What viewers may not have anticipated was that AOC, recounting how she rushed to hide for her safety after thought she was going to die, would also disclose another trauma: “I am a survivor of sexual assault,” she told viewers. In the aftermath of the deadly riot at the Capitol, AOC said there were many who urged her and others still grappling with the terrorizing events that day to move on, that it wasn’t that big of a deal. “These are the same tactics of abusers,” the 31-year-old congresswoman explained.
Addressing survivors across the spectrum of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment, as well as myriad other traumas, AOC emphasized that “small to large, these episodes can compound on one another.” She rejected the notion that those who have experienced trauma at any point in their lives will simply deal with it and move on. Rather, in reality, it’s something that can build and build. There’s the initial trauma of the experience itself, she explained, and then “the trauma afterwards of people not believing you or trying to publically humiliate you.” She noted the value in telling one’s story, sometimes over and over again, and its impact on helping people who are forced to navigate trauma. AOC certainly didn’t have to mention her sexual assault, but in doing so she made a powerful point about gaslighting and its role in keeping the victims of trauma, including sexual violence, from having a voice and finding healing in fighting back against an abuser’s attempt to distort or deny reality.
In December 2020, the critically acclaimed musician FKA Twigs, born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, filed a civil lawsuit with the Los Angeles County Superior Court accusing the actor Shia LaBeouf of sexual battery, assault, and infliction of emotional distress during their 2018-2019 relationship. The lawsuit demands a jury trial, and LaBeouf’s attorneys have said he denies all of the allegations.
In the lawsuit, Twigs describes a “cycle of abuse” both physical and mental that LaBeouf has inflicted on numerous romantic partners. Twigs also notes that said “cycle” has been largely dismissed by the media and public as the antics of a creative personality who is a “harmless figure of fun.” For Twigs, what began as grooming behavior on LeBeouf’s part-including declaring his love for her within two weeks of dating and “over-the-top displays of affection” that built up her trust and confidence-devolved into incessant “belittling” and “berating” and eventually escalated to physical violence. The lawsuit details an incident around Valentine’s Day 2019, during which LaBeouf forcibly yanked Twigs from his car, threw her against it, and strangled her. LaBeouf is also accused of knowingly transmitting an STD to multiple partners. Prior to taking legal action, Twigs requested that LaBeouf seek mental health and substance abuse treatment, and donate to charities for domestic abuse. In response, the actor instead downplayed the seriousness of the situation and threatened to embarrass Twigs by releasing personal text messages, according to the suit.
Since filing the lawsuit, Twigs has continued to speak out on social media and give interviews to highlight her intent in coming forward: to spread awareness that sexual assault can happen to anyone in the hopes of helping other survivors of violence inflicted by an intimate partner. She has acknowledged that the decision didn’t come easy. In an Instagram post from December, she explains: “My second worst nightmare is being forced to share with the world that I am a survivor of domestic violence. My first worst nightmare is not telling anyone and knowing that I could have helped even just one person by sharing my story.”
In mid-February, Twigs gave her first TV interview discussing the abuse to Gayle King on CBS This Morning. She further explained the red flags present early on in her tumultuous relationship with LaBeouf, which began after they met working on the film Honey Boy based on LaBeouf’s childhood. His gaslighting abuse tactics, Twigs said, included pushing her and then telling her she had actually fallen. Regarding the weight of the abuse she carried, Twigs said she finally feels that she’s “handed his dysfunction back to him, and it’s his.”
In the last week, another former girlfriend of LaBeof, the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood actress Margaret Qualley, expressed her support for Twigs, sharing her image on the cover of Elle magazine on Instagram with the caption “Thank you.”
In the weeks since Evan Rachel Wood said in a powerful post on her Instagram that the musician Marilyn Manson, born Brian Warner, is responsible for grooming her as a teenager and later “horrifically” abusing her for years, the Westworld actress has revealed more of her experience and showed support on Instagram for FKA Twigs. As was the case with LaBeouf, more women have since come forward with allegations against Warner (Manson), and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has opened an investigation into the accusations. In early February, Wood used her Instagram platform to share instructions for filing a police report with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Warner has denied the allegations.
Both FKA Twigs and Evan Rachel Wood have supported amending state domestic violence laws to include “coercive control.” Per the Los Angeles Times, Wood worked with California senator Susan Rubio on a bill-SB 1141-that was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2020 and defines coercive control as:
“. . . a pattern of behavior that unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty and includes, among other things, unreasonably isolating a victim from friends, relatives, or other sources of support.”
Twigs and Missouri congresswoman Cori Bush, who herself is a survivor of domestic abuse, shared their personal stories with the New York Times earlier this month to highlight the effects of coercive control, which the Times explains are now seen as “not only steppingstones to violence” but potentially “criminally abusive in their own right.”
All three women have discussed abuse that started with what’s been described in the health and wellness community as “love bombing”-a form of emotional manipulation characterized by intense and excessive displays of affection that can precede a cycle of verbal and physical abuse. Their continued efforts to vocalize their traumatic experiences share a common goal: to help survivors of sexual assault identify abuse tactics before it’s too late, and to prevent their abusers from hurting more women.
Following the 2017 allegations against disgraced movie mogul and now convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood declared #TimesUp on sexual harassment in the film industry and beyond. But sexual abuse reaches into the homes of everyday people of all colors and creeds. As is evident from stories like Evan Rachel Wood’s, arriving at the decision to speak up can take time. So, how long after a sexual assault can a victim seek justice through the legal system?
In the state of California, Assembly Bill 1619 was passed in September 2018. The bill effectively extended the statute of limitations on adult sex crimes (sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, incest, sexual violence, etc.) from two years to 10 years for crimes occurring after 2019.
Additionally, the passage of AB 218, a bill signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2019, was seen as an important step towards prioritizing the rights of thousands of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. What AB 218 does for survivors is effectively extend the time they have to file a lawsuit by increasing the statute of limitations on child sex crime cases. The bill affords survivors who have required excess time to process and heal from traumatizing abuse more time to address these needs before pursuing legal action. As of January 1, 2020, AB 218 established the following protections in California:
AB 218 can be complicated to interpret, and its application may vary based on individual circumstances (the team at DLG is here to answer any questions you may have 24/7). But the purpose it serves is to address the reality of abuse that sometimes goes undiscovered and untreated for many years (if not decades) after a crime was committed. The amount of time it takes for the effects of sexual abuse to fully manifest can vary dramatically from survivor-to-survivor.
Examples of real-life instances of adults looking back on childhood trauma abound in today’s popular culture. The HBO docuseries Allen v. Farrow, which aired the first of four episodes on February 21, has brought the story of Dylan Farrow’s sexual assault allegations against Woody Allen, her adoptive father, back into the spotlight. Farrow, once the subject of a heated custody battle between her adoptive mother, Mia Farrow, and Allen in the ’90s, maintains today at age 35 that Allen molested her as a child at her home in Connecticut. Allen maintains his innocence, and the story told through the documentary so far centers on Dylan Farrow’s perspective. According to the New York Times, in 1993, a Connecticut state’s attorney decided not to prosecute Allen for the alleged abuse to avoid putting Dylan through a traumatic trial, despite finding “probable cause” and saying he believed Dylan was a victim of molestation. Dylan’s case, while high-profile and at the center of endless speculation in the media, serves as a window into one woman’s trauma as an adult based on her recollections of childhood abuse. The rights granted under AB 218 concerning similar cases that have occurred in the state of California are meant to break down the barriers presented by statutes of limitations that no longer fit the growing body of research surrounding the effects on adults of childhood sexual assault.
It’s generally the celebrities, politicians, and influencers who make waves in our daily discourse with their stories of sexual abuse. It’s the plotline from the latest Netflix drama or pulled-from-the-headlines Law & Order: SVU episode that grabs hold of our attention. But the painful truth is that sexual assault is not rare, and it can happen to anyone. An American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds according to RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the nation. Pursing justice in the aftermath of sexual abuse is a unique path for every individual, and it is important that survivors ask the right questions when deciding to seek legal recourse.
Questions for a sexual assault lawyer include: whether the firm has successfully handed similar sexual assault cases; how often cases are taken to trial or settled out of court; the typical amount of time it takes to reach a verdict; who the primary attorney handling the case will be; and how much it will cost the survivor and what type of damages they can expect to claim.
Samuel Dordulian, founder and president of Dordulian Law Group, personally leads every sexual abuse case for his firm, knowing from a young age the importance of being a fierce and unwavering advocate for sexual assault victims. As a junior high school student, Sam played on a YMCA basketball team. The team’s coach, a local police sergeant and respected authority figure in the community, victimized several of Sam’s teammates. This was Sam’s first exposure to childhood sexual abuse, and the experience resonated deeply with him later in life as he found his true calling prosecuting sex crimes and eventually founding the top-rated sexual abuse firm in Los Angeles. His understanding of the traumatizing effects of sexual abuse runs deep, and he has built his career around obtaining justice for victims.
“We’re about a year out from the Harvey Weinstein verdict, which I think was really a paradigm shift for sexual assault survivors,” says Dordulian. “Previously, the problem you would often encounter with high-powered celebrities accused of sexual abuse is that they had access to not only the best defense, but also the press. So they were constantly directing the narrative and essentially tainting the jury pool.”
“I think what you saw with the Weinstein verdict was this shift where the tendency is now, as it should be, to not only believe survivors who come forward, but also understand that the process is very personal, and it can take a significant number of years before one feels comfortable doing so. I think we still have a great deal of progress to make in terms of reducing sexual abuse and increasing reporting, but we’re continuing to see positive change. And with more and more women coming forward to expose high-profile predators, I think that will only continue,” says Dordulian.
Samuel Dordulian works with a uniquely qualified team of Sexual Assault Justice Experts (SAJE) on every case involving sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. The former Deputy District Attorney and his team understand the seriousness and the ultrasensitive nature of sexual assault cases, including the lasting physical and emotional suffering that can keep victims from coming forward, especially when perpetrated by someone who is close to the victim, as unfortunately is often the case.
Dordulian Law Group’s approach is twofold: protecting you from further trauma while aggressively pursuing justice and the damages owed to you. Over their decades of practice, they have represented nearly every type of sexual assault victim with a 99% trial success rate. The DLG sexual assault lawyers and on-staff licensed clinical therapist have the knowledge and the care that sexual abuse victims need when fighting for their rights. No matter if you’re fearful, confused, or feeling alone, the SAJE Team understands your worries and are here to help, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.