After reading Ronan Farrow’s recent article in the New Yorker, entitled Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies I’m filled with great sadness.
In his November 6 article, Mr. Farrow describes how producer Harvey Weinstein “hired private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations” of sexual assault toward him. This revelation is horrifying, but it underscores a point I’ve been trying to make for many years.
I’ve been writing about sexual abuse, assault and rape for a long time, including an article in 2015 about societal attitudes toward women who accuse powerful men of sexual assault, as well as one in 2014 about our conspiracy of silence around sexual abuse.
Most recently, I wrote about how men like Harvey Weinstein can’t operate without a group of willing enablers, some of whom act to suppress the stories in the press and some of whom collude by failing to prosecute the offenders.
The point I’ve been trying to make, and that Mr. Farrow’s article drives home so powerfully, is that within our society there are powerful forces in play with the sole aim of shaming and bullying the victims of sexual assault (and those who write about it) into silence.
In his article, Mr. Farrow goes into detail about the agencies Mr. Weinstein hired and the nefarious ways in which they attempted to insinuate themselves into the lives of both the reporters working on these stories as well as the alleged victims of Weinstein’s predation.
Mr. Farrow points to actress Rose McGowan, who was contacted by an operative who claimed to be a literary agent and who pretended to befriend her, in order to gather information about Ms. McGowan with regard to Weinstein.
Despite their protestations to the contrary, it seems pretty clear that these agencies were hired by Weinstein to suppress any stories about him in the press and to silence his alleged victims.
I’ve been writing for a long time about the way that women’s reputations are dragged through the mud when they make claims of sexual harassment or abuse. The Italian model, Ambra Batillano Gutierrez is a recent example of someone who experienced an assault not only on her body, but on her reputation when she accused Weinstein of sexual assault.
Sadly, there are too many people and too many institutions invested in keeping the victims from coming forward and accusing powerful men of sexual harassment and assault.
In another article by Ronan Farrow about the costs of speaking out about Harvey Weinstein, actress Annabella Sciorra describes how her career tanked after she was raped by Weinstein in the early 1990’s and then soon afterwards, she rebuffed further inappropriate sexual advances by him.
In the article she’s quoted as saying that she didn’t work between 1992 and 1995 and that she heard that there were rumours going around that she was “difficult,” which she believes were due to “the Harvey machine.”
In the same article, actress Daryl Hannah describes how she told colleagues how Weinstein had sexually assaulted her, and that “it didn’t matter.” She said that after she rebuffed his attempts at sexual assault, “I experienced immediate repercussions.”
Hanna goes on to say, “I think that it doesn’t matter if you’re a well-known actress… it doesn’t matter if you report or if you don’t, because we are not believed. We are more than not believed—we are berated and criticized and blamed.”
I can’t underestimate how many times a woman has come to me, describing an incident of sexual harassment at her workplace and when I suggested that she report it at the human resources department, she tells me that she has, and that they did absolutely nothing to help her.
Many women get in trouble for reporting workplace sexual harassment. They receive demotions or are fired, while the person who preyed upon them suffers no consequences whatsoever.
Why is our society like this? Why do so many people want the victims of sexual harassment and abuse to just shut up? I don’t know. It’s not merely misogyny, because the male victims of these crimes are silenced in the same way.
I think that it might have something to do with our bizarre attitudes toward sexual misconduct, in which we tend to want to punish the victim and minimize the perpetrator’s behaviour.
Where do these strange attitudes come from? I can speculate, but I really don’t know. All I do know is that the problem is pervasive.
Recently, Britain has erupted in a scandal, with at least 36 members of Parliament being accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour going back several years.
Michael Fallon, the Defense Secretary, just resigned after admitting to having inappropriately touched a female journalist 15 years ago. All this sexual misconduct has been going on for decades but it’s been kept under wraps, in the typical pattern we’re seeing around sexual abuse, harassment and assault.
In the US Congress, women are sharing their #MeToo stories around their experiences of sexual harassment on the job. In the US tech industry, 60% of women say they’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, according to an article by Kristen Bellstrom in Fortune Magazine.
All of these powerful women have been experiencing this problem for years and years, and yet their complaints have fallen on deaf ears, or these victims felt that there would be no point in complaining, as there’s been no will to address the issue.
Every few years, another story breaks about a wealthy, powerful man accused of sexual assault. In recent years, it’s been Bill Cosby, Jian Ghomeshi and Donald Trump. Today, it’s Harvey Weinstein, and a slew of other Hollywood men.
We must ask ourselves why it always takes so long for these stories to come to light and how these abusers can carry on over decades, without consequences.
Until we stop silencing the victims of sexual harassment and assault, I fear that nothing will change.
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