Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman, John Conyers, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, James Toback, Mark Halperin, Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck,…
These are a just a few of the names of men in Hollywood, Media, Business, and Politics who have been accused of sexual harassment and/or assault in the past two months. Since the Weinstein scandal broke on October 5th and #MeToo became popularized by actress Alyssa Milano the next day on Twitter (with original credit going to Turana Burke), hundreds of names have been publicly declared in the U.S. alone, while the #MeToo movement has moved across more than 85 countries with millions of women and men sharing their stories.In fact, the #MeToo movement was just named yesterday as Time’s Person of the Year for 2017.
While many are celebrating the success of what is being called The Weinsten Effect in terms of victims coming forward and being heard, the issue taking a major stage in pop culture, news, and media, and a seemingly newfound accountability for these inappropriate actions, others consider the implications of politicizing sexual assault and whether they should worry about how to engage in their personal work lives and office culture—not to mention the question around what is or isn’t factual. Both sides have merit and should be addressed in the current cultural conversation.
Previously powerful, untouchable predators are now being exposed. A story just broke this morning that Harvey Weinstein is now facing a class action lawsuit and may be charged with the new crime of racketeering while he is also alleged by British actress and model Kadian Noble to have engaged in sex trafficking with her stemming from a 2014 incident in Cannes. Weinstein is accused of using intimidation, coercion, and even spies during named operations to keep alleged victims and the media silent to maintain his powerful status and position—not just within the Hollywood elite, but also the political elite. Women were promised roles and fame in return for sexual acts and they were alleged to have been requirements, at times, for the fulfillment of said promises.
Matt Lauer is alleged to have locked a coworker in his office while he sexually assaulted her over a chair until she passed out and a nurse was called. Other allegations included an incident at the Sochi Olympics from which there is said to be photo and digital evidence. Matt Lauer was the face of NBC’s the Today Show. Matt Lauer had even previously grilled Fox News star Bill O’Reilly about his own allegations of sexual harassment and resulted firing from the network.
Even 93-year-old former President George H.W. Bush Sr. has had several people come forward with stories of him fondling them and joking about it in front of a room of witnesses. And let’s not forget the 1989 “callboy” scandal that had ties to Lawrence King and the Franklin Credit Union underage prostitution/trafficking ring that reached all the way to the White House. Perhaps that story would have received more attention today.
More and more people of all classes, races, gender and ethnicity are gaining the courage and strength to speak up. RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) the country’s largest anti-sexual assault organization, reported a 21% increase in calls the month after the Weinstein scandal broke. Actors James Van Der Beek, Terry Crews, and Anthony Rapp are three men who have spoken out and shared their stories as male victims of sexual harassment and/or assault. In Indianapolis, two young girls accused city councilman Jeff Miller of giving them massages, patting their behinds, and touching the skin on their back under their shirt and the area where the leg and groin meet. They decided to share this with their parents after seeing all the recent news stories.
While there is much to celebrate right now, there are also things of which to be leery. Or, at least, we must not forget to think critically.
93.1 WIBC Radio Host, Tony Katz, spoke on his show about being concerned about workplace culture and how to engage with female employees. He had no concern over him acting inappropriately, but rather whether his actions could ever be perceived as such and he didn’t want to even put himself in a position where that could be a question. Other conversations I’ve had with men this week have introduced questions about where the line is drawn (is it an off-color joke? An inquiry about the status of a marriage?) and even whether male employers may become nervous about making female hiring decisions. In yet another conversation, a man told me he’s confused because he, himself, has been the target of an attempted sexual assault and yet he feels like he is viewed as the predator.
Is the pendulum beginning to swing too far?
The Wikileaks page on the Weinsten scandal lists hundreds of names of people who have been accused since the story broke in October. Several of the names say “one person accused them of sexual harassment and he denies the charge”. Really? What if that particular allegation is false? What if the harassment was an invitation to drinks after work? We have no idea and yet this man’s name is publicly listed along with Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer by an unnamed accuser. This is just one area where the line begins to blur.
We have to be aware that women have made exaggerated and outright false allegations (e.g. Duke Lacrosse, the University of Virginia, multiple men released from prison due to DNA testing,etc.). Newsweek ran a story two years ago about what’s happened on college campuses where the accused seem to be convicted with no real questions or presumption of innocence and the accusers are immediately believed. This has real consequences to real lives just as there are real consequences to actual sexual assault. It’s not an all or nothing. We don’t have to shame true victims and we also don’t have to jump on a mob mentality and rush to judgment. To do so detracts from the serious issue of sexual trauma and corrodes any progress that may have been made of late.
Another challenge that makes for murky waters is the apparent subjective nature of just what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual assault. These laws vary from state to state and can be as clear as non-consensual sexual penetration and rape and as broad as any behavior (a glance, a joke, etc.) that makes an individual feel harassed. So we have created a truly bizarre situation in which we live in a hyper-sexualized culture where sex is casualized, we are constantly inundated with sexual images, and we are told any limits to sexual appetites or orientation marginalizes and sexual morality is passé or Puritanical. We even have organizations devoted to normalizing pedophilia (such as NAMBLA) and proposing eliminating age requirements for sex, or others (Virtuous Pedophiles) seemingly less innocuously pleading for empathy for pedophiles and arguing publicly—and with more frequency—that most pedophiles don’t offend, occur with the same frequency as homosexuality, and are marginalized as such. On the other side of this coin, if anything—anything at all— makes someone feel harassed, they can file a charge. Of course, one can always make an allegation without pursuing it, as well. How confusing is this world in which we live?
Please hear me. Many, many people who have been victims of sexual harassment and/or assault have been afraid to come forward or have been personally attacked or discredited for attempting to do so. This is wrong at every level. But we can not expect to create an environment in which all things are acceptable and yet nothing is depending upon the subjective feelings of the individual. Bradeis College Title IX Coordinator allegedly told students at a sexual assault forum that “regret equals rape”. While the college denies this, it lead to a sexual assault filing by a female student who seduced a male student and later regretted it. I wonder how many people reading this have regret over a sexual decision they have made. Regret doesn’t feel good. And when feelings are the barometer for what constitutes sexual harassment—or even rape—as opposed to what AT TIMES should be indicators of bad decisions and the consequences thereof, one can avoid responsibility and accountability by becoming the victim, which makes someone else the problem. As a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, rape, childhood sexual molestation, and workplace sexual harassment, I understand the fear of speaking out, the utter emotional destruction of being blamed and seeing nothing come as a result of speaking my truth. As an adult who has made other sexual decisions for which I alone am responsible and regret deeply, I accept what is my own to carry. And I know there is a difference.
After having worked with sex trafficking victims for the past 6 years, I am disappointed that there is talk of leveling sex trafficking charges against Harvey Weinstein for what is alleged to be a sexual assault. There is a difference.
Is it too much to ask that we think critically and speak knowledgeably?
But wait! There’s more. How did this topic become so politicized and polarizing all of a sudden? Why was it necessary or helpful for Time Magazine, in what could have been a great setting for a thoughtful conversation, to blame one political party for not responding to sexual harassment claims as well as the other? Why was it necessary for them to bring in third and fourth-wave feminism and the women’s march in January of 2017? To include these areas politicizes the issue and further (intentionally?) divides people on what could and should be a non-partisan issue.
The water is murky.
Sex trafficking has seen much greater awareness in recent years; According to reddit.com, there have been 6,355 sex trafficking arrests so far this year; Strip club and street prostitution outreach groups have expanded exponentially; more than 85 countries have climbed on-board the #MeToo train to share stories of sexual harm, some celebrities and high-profile cases have opened the door to a conversation, an awareness, and accountability that has rarely been seen. But, people are beginning to diverge from what could be an amazing opportunity for awareness and change. There is a lot at stake. Let’s be wise in how we proceed.