This week, the film industry is having a moment of truth over the “news” that producer Harvey Weinstein harassed and abused numerous women over several decades. It has been less than a week since The New York Times published its explosive report about him, and already 28 women have stepped forward with allegations about his sexual misconduct.
The fact that more women are coming forward should not come as a shock. As research shows, sexual predators tend to be repeated offenders and we can observe the same pattern of several victims coming forward when accusations against other powerful men have come to light. From Bill Cosby to Roger Ailes we have seen individuals that use their power to abuse others.
This power dynamic generates a disadvantage for victims to speak up and report abuse. For many of the women who came forward with allegations of abuse against Weinstein, they said their primary fear was retaliation. Sexual assault victims can experience a range of emotions that make it difficult for them to report abuse including the fear of reprisals or being blamed, not enough corroborating evidence, or shame. But when predators hold some measure of control or power over their victims, those fears are amplified.
While high-profile cases like Weinstein’s are the ones that news outlets primarily report, we need to remember that sexual abuse happens everywhere and within every single industry. It is all about power and control.
We don't read lots of news stories about fast food workers experiencing harassment and retail workers or hotel maids experiencing harassment, but that's not because it's not happening. It's an actual problem for women (and men) at the top and bottom of the income spectrum.
One in four women report experiencing "sexual harassment" in the workplace, according to a June 2016 EEOC report on workplace harassment. When asked more specifically about unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, 40% of women reported being harassed, the report found. Additionally, almost 60% of women surveyed reported some form of gender harassment, which includes sexist, crude or offensive behavior at work.
These perpetrators count on the silence of those around them. Not only other men following a “bro code” but also other women who are blinded by rape culture. Weinstein’s predatory behavior stayed an open secret for so long. The fact that he still gained power and fame despite decades of accusations tells hard truths about our willingness to overlook bad behavior from men who create things we like.
Consider how Roger Ailes and the now-fired Bill O’Reilly both racked up sexual harassment allegations before they faced any consequences. Or how R&B singer R. Kelly has allegedly been using his position of power to manipulate women for decades, since his first high-profile sex scandal. Or how Bill Cosby allegedly used his fame and influence to drug and assault women (many of them young, aspiring actresses) over an almost 50-year span. Or how both Woody Allen and Roman Polanski have documented histories of abuse allegations, and both continue to create new films. Casey Affleck won an Oscar this year even though he faced a flood of sexual harassment accusations.
These men don’t act on their own though; they are part of a culture that rewards their behavior. If we stop to think about it, many of these men actually have contributed to rape culture and construct the narratives that justify their actions.
It is infuriating to realize the long-term consequences that Weinstein’s actions and men like him can create. How many women feel insecure at their workplace? How many victims fear to come forward?
We need to stop giving perpetrators a pass. We need to create a culture in which standing up for those with less power, for those being mistreated, becomes something you do regardless of the cost. We need to be able to call out the men that perpetuate abuse without fear.
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