Men must speak up on sex abuse
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.