IN OCTOBER, a spreadsheet called S****y Media Men began to circulate among women working in journalism in the United States.

Many anonymously contributed to the Google document. They made allegations about men with whom they had worked.

Some of the men were accused of sending unwanted messages to women, or making undesirable advances. Others were accused of rape.

In the words of its alleged creator, writer Moira Donegan, the document – intended to be a private, crowdsourced list of men to be wary of – “spread much further and much faster than anticipated.”

It was then made public when the document itself was posted on Reddit. A few of those accused anonymously have since been fired, or voluntarily left their jobs.

Perhaps some of these men are the inevitable casualties of a grisly new war which transcends known and understood sexual crimes, including assault and voyeurism, and takes into account any incident which leaves a woman uncomfortable.

Battle lines are being drawn over previously familiar territory for men – a woman’s knee, or the back of her hand. A grey world is suddenly black and white.

Skirmishes are being fought in modern amphitheatres. Online, millions have tweeted the words #MeToo to indicate they have been the victims of sexual aggression. The accusations behind the hashtag run the gamut from inappropriate to criminal – some will relate to unwanted attention in a bar, others to violent forced sex.

Men have also been publicly named, both online and in the media, as ‘offenders’. Again, the crimes of which they stand accused vary. Harvey Weinstein, the lecherous producer whose alleged offences set the spark to this powder keg, is accused alongside Sir Michael Fallon, who apparently decided to resign some 15 years after placing a listless paw on the knee of journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer. Hartley-Brewer said if Fallon had, in fact, resigned over “kneegate”, it would be an “absurd and ridiculous” decision. One suspects the true reason for the resignation remains unknown.

Maybe this is the toll of our new conflict over sexuality, and particularly that of men. In this fight, the context of an incident seems to matter little – background is stripped away, the act itself denuded for judgment. Assertions go untested. There is no burden of proof for the accuser. Instead, the man blamed faces trial by Twitter and media.

Some will argue this cost to the most basic tenet of law – that an individual is innocent until proven guilty – is worth paying.

Revolutions are bloody, after all. A reckoning may well be overdue. Rape Crisis centres across England and Wales took almost 4,000 calls a week across 2016 and 2017. And, of course, false allegations are very rare. Recent research for the Home Office suggests only four per cent of cases of sexual violence reported in the UK are found or suspected to be untrue.

But I feel a sense of disquiet at accusations being reported as fact when the accused is not given the opportunity of a trial.

There is also a sharp distinction between being the victim of illegal sexual behaviour and the recipient of something much less serious – a clumsy come-on, for example. And I can’t help but think the continued popularity of #MeToo - a movement initially established in 2006 to create awareness of sexual assault in America – has helped to blur clear boundaries between an incident which is a crime and an incident which is not.

Already, there is conflation of these different types of incident. According to the New York Times, a recent survey by The Economist/YouGov found that approximately 25 per cent of millennial-age American women think asking someone for a drink is harassment.

Positive change may yet happen when the dust settles. I hope these past few months will empower victims of sexual offences to go to the police. In Dorset, reports of such crime went up 11 per cent between 2016 and 2017. The force attributes the rise to increased confidence in reporting.

I also hope all of this informs future discussions between men and women about sexuality and consent. There’s no need to condemn this type of conversation as being just a symbol of worthy hand-wringing. Instead, we should see the opportunity to speak freely about sex, autonomy and agency as a liberating development, one that can inform future public discourse.

These are important issues but to make any change stick, we need a legitimacy we won’t find on social media.