“Why are all the ‘alleged victims’ coming out with their stories all of the sudden after all these years?”
“Why did they meet up with him at his hotel room in the first place?”
“Do they want money from him? Their fifteen minutes of fame perhaps?”
It is heartbreaking to witness this rhetoric on social media surrounding the Harvey Weinstein story. Harvey Weinstein is a powerful American film producer and studio executive. He and his brother created the film studio Miramax and helped many films propel into critical acclaim and popular culture. After their success, they founded another film studio, The Weinstein Company, which focused on independent releases, prestige topics, and quality filmmaking. The Weinstein Company quickly became a staple at award ceremonies and a goal for aspiring actors to launch their careers. On October 5, the New York Times published a piece in which authors Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey reported that they had learned of legal settlements between Weinstein and at least eight women. These settlements provided a monetary compensation to the women in exchange for their silence regarding Harvey Weinstein and his actions. Basically, Weinstein had been harassing, raping, and sexually assaulting women and paying them to stay quiet when they threatened to sue. After the story broke, he issued an apology and more women started coming forward with their own unfortunate abuse encounters with the film producer. Weinstein is a man of tremendous power in the industry and many victims cited fear as their reason to stay quiet for so long. It is widely known, that because of the heavy emotional and psychological trauma, many victims of abuse don’t come forward with their stories until many years later. Many victims take their secret to the grave for the fear of repercussions or their own internalized shame. So why are the questions at the top of this piece still being asked? How many victims have to come forward in order for society to start blaming the perpetrator? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? The Bill Cosby situation taught me something unfortunate about our present. Still in 2017, we live in a society based on rape culture, victim blaming, and we aren’t doing enough to change that.
Rape culture vaguely refers to the environment in which rape is existent and in which sexual violence is normalized and excused in the media and pop culture. Rape culture isn’t specific to the physical act of rape but also to the use of misogynistic language, objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence. By engaging on the aforementioned acts, we foster a society which disregards women’s rights and safety. What we as a society often take for granted is that the seemingly-innocuous sexually-implicit joke we made, or that funny comment we made about a victim’s dress, is often what prevents victims from coming forward. We live in a society that teaches women not to get raped rather than teaching men not to rape. Many of the Harvey Weinstein victims bravely recounted a time where their whole being was reduced to an object. They recounted a time where a man in power abused them. They recounted a moment where they were worthless and ashamed. And still, there are people out there blaming them for being in the wrong place, for wearing the wrong clothes, or cruelly trivializing their pain with phrases like “boys will be boys.” My general rule on this topic is to always automatically believe the victim. My approach is controversial and often challenged by many of my peers who vouch for the “there’s always two sides to every story” approach. In cases of rape, abuse, and harassment, the worse we can do is to waste time trying to discredit the victim rather than protecting possible future victims. If you want to focus on facts, out of all reported allegations of sexual assault or abuse, only “2-10% are false.” But this small percentage also includes baseless reports (presumed truthful but pertaining to a different crime), unsubstantiated reports (not enough evidence), and the victims throwing out their own cases (presumably due to fear) so the percentage is even smaller. Giving the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt should not even be part of our thought process. Does it really have to be someone we know in order for us to believe the victim?
Victim blaming is one toxic ideology. By blaming the victim, we marginalize and make it harder to come forward and report the abuse. Victim blaming also sides with the abuser and basically agrees that it is the victim’s fault the act is happening. The abuser avoids accountability and the victim will not feel safe or comfortable coming forward with their stories. Staying neutral is as toxic as blaming the victim.
As a society, we must foster a safer environment for victims. If you can’t fully commit to activism or informing the public, you can take small steps towards going in the right direction. These actions while seemingly small in nature, might have a great impact in our society:
- Believe the victim. Support the victim.
- Be aware of the representation of abuse in the media. Ask yourself critical questions. Even the simplest questions like “is this right?” are a good start to start a necessary debate.
- Don’t allow others to minimize the extent of rape or make offensive jokes about it.
- If you see something, say something. Warning signs should be taken seriously.
- Don’t objectify or degrade others (leave that to the president).
- Don’t be afraid to say no, or ask others to respect your space.
- Respect other’s space and learn how to accept a “no.”
- Use cases like the Harvey Weinstein story to start a conversation.
Harvey Weinstein is a disgusting man who is rightfully being called out on his behavior. I can only hope the appropriate consequences will follow. But this horrific act should act as a powerful lesson. As a society, we NEED to change. We have a lot of problems, but we should prioritize the safety of our people. We need to hold others accountable for their actions. This will not be possible if we don’t foster a place of safety and support. Let the stories of those victims be a reminder that we aren’t doing enough. Acknowledging this will allow us to move forward and rebuild our fallen society. Take those small steps, promote love, promote safety. Engrave Harvey Weinstein’s deplorable face in your head and let that be a driving force to fight for those who are vulnerable. Channel that anger and frustration into a positive outcome, after all, if you’re not outraged, you are not paying attention.