Men must speak up on sex abuse

The New Zealand Herald - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS -

The ap­par­ent start of Har­vey We­in­stein’s al­leged abuses be­gan as long ago as 1984 when the Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer in­vited an as­pir­ing ac­tress to his ho­tel room. He was, she claimed, naked in the bath tub. The first of his set­tle­ments — that we know about at least — for out­ra­geous be­hav­iour oc­curred in 1990 when a deal was struck with a young New York woman. Yet for more than three decades the film in­dus­try gi­ant has been able to per­sist with his al­leged preda­tory habits by set­tling with his ac­cusers in ex­change for their si­lence. His un­re­strained lech­ery was aided, it ap­pears, by a cul­ture of misog­yny in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness, and a sup­port­ing cast of en­ablers who looked the other way.

It took a brave Ash­ley Judd to call out We­in­stein, say­ing she had been vic­timised by the film mogul. Her dis­clo­sure was swiftly fol­lowed by at least 25 com­plaints of ha­rass­ment and four ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual as­sault against We­in­stein. The pro­ducer de­nies all al­le­ga­tions of non-con­sen­sual sex, though he ad­mits in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct.

We­in­stein is an ex­tremely well-con­nected lib­eral US fig­ure. A long­time Demo­cratic donor, he hosted a fund-raiser for Hil­lary Clin­ton last year, em­ployed Malia Obama, the old­est daugh­ter of for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, as an in­tern and helped fund a univer­sity chair in Glo­ria Steinem’s name. When the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val held a women’s march We­in­stein joined the pa­rade.

For a brief time We­in­stein adopted a de­fence of re­pen­tence, claim­ing through his lawyer that he be­longed to an age when work­place rules ap­par­ently per­mit­ted abu­sive be­hav­iour. He also de­clared he was get­ting help for his com­pul­sions. Es­sen­tially he was pitch­ing for a sec­ond chance. That op­tion seems no longer avail­able. The sheer scale of al­le­ga­tions has de­stroyed his rep­u­ta­tion, and the pow­er­ful com­pany he ran has fired him.

New Zealan­der Zoe Brock, a for­mer model who was among the We­in­stein ac­cusers, chal­lenged male celebri­ties to speak out. It has taken a while but some of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest stars fi­nally have stepped up, even though many were quickly out­spo­ken in their crit­i­cism of Don­ald Trump when ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct sur­faced in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

The film in­dus­try of course is hardly the only place that shel­ters abusers or buries the fact that pow­er­ful men some­times ex­ploit their dom­i­nant sta­tus. In this coun­try, the NZ Po­lice and New Zealand Rugby — to name just two or­gan­i­sa­tions — have been forced to ad­dress bad be­hav­iour af­ter a se­ries of un­savoury in­ci­dents.

A com­mon theme in many of these events is the ex­ploita­tion of young vul­ner­a­ble women. The sim­plest thing men could do when they know work­place abuse is oc­cur­ring is speak up. The si­lence around We­in­stein al­lowed him li­cence to al­legedly be­have for decades in ways that could yet see him face crim­i­nal charges.

For women to know they have the sup­port of men against their abusers could make a huge dif­fer­ence. And it does men no harm to see other men step for­ward when the eas­i­est thing is to do noth­ing at all.

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