Why Time's Up Legal Defense Fund is looking for help from PR firms

Three dozen PR agencies have helped the fund since it launched at the start of the year.

NEW YORK: The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which provides PR and legal assistance to women taking on sexual assault and harassment, is looking to add PR firms to its network.

Most of the attention paid to the Time’s Up movement has focused on women in prominent industries such as the media and politics, and the men being accused are often moguls at the top of their fields, noted Kerri Lyon, MD and president of New York public affairs at SKDKnickerbocker. The firm was one of the founding organizations of the fund, which launched at the start of this year.

"The reality is that most victims live outside the spotlight of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, or Wall Street, and they often do not have the resources to obtain legal or PR representation, which means the individuals facing sexual misconduct or related retaliation often cannot defend themselves effectively," Lyon said at the PRWeek Hall of Femme 2018 on Wednesday.

Victims are often women who work in jobs in hotels, restaurants, and retail chains, she added.

Since launching, the fund has raised $22 million from donors in all 50 states and 25 countries. It was initially prepared to take on 1,000 cases, but since January more than 3,000 people in all 50 states have sought legal assistance and more than 500 attorneys have joined the network.

"This outpouring of financial support happened with very little marketing," said Lyon. "Women and men were looking for an outlet for their anger, and the fund gave them something to connect to."

About 400 cases have been flagged as needing PR support. One of the first agencies to take on a case from the fund was Precision Strategies, which has been working to get justice for a woman accusing a music industry executive of sexual misconduct.

The fund also helped Sarah Schacht, who with PR support was able to go on record with HuffPost about an attempted rape. The Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency group where the accused harasser worked, released a four-point plan days later outlining how it would protect women from harassment in the workplace.

"The big question is how can we serve so many women effectively when we know how much work goes into coordinating one big news story, let alone 400," said Lyon. "We have recruited more than 36 PR firms who have offered to take on clients on a pro bono basis. We have 19 victims working with firms in our network."

Cases that could benefit from PR support include high-profile individuals or organizations under scrutiny; situations where a harasser is already using media against an individual or has threatened to do so; a matter where media attention is the primary way to seek justice because statutes of limitation have expired; or a case that’s part of a large pattern of harassment in a specific industry or at the hands of an individual.

"With this fund, we are trying to prepare as many women as possible to come forward with their experiences and feel safe in doing so," said Lyon. "The skills we possess as storytellers to transform women’s lives is so powerful but also a huge responsibility."

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