Abuse of power doesn’t end with Hol­ly­wood

Woonsocket Call - - Opinion -

More and more women have come for­ward in re­cent days to share their sto­ries of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse by film pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein, break­ing the long si­lence sur­round­ing his be­hav­ior. The de­tails of We­in­stein's ac­tions are grotesque enough. But just as shock­ing is the fact that his sys­tem­atic abuse of power seems to have been an open se­cret.

The al­le­ga­tions de­scribed by the New York Times and the New Yorker fol­low a bru­tal pat­tern. We­in­stein would in­vite a young wo­man into his ho­tel room for a meet­ing be­fore mak­ing ad­vances and ex­pos­ing him­self. Some of the women he ha­rassed and at­tacked tell sto­ries of lock­ing them­selves in bath­rooms or clos­ets to hide from him. In one ex­change caught on tape by the New York Po­lice Depart­ment, We­in­stein tries to whee­dle an ac­tress into his room and ex­plains that he is "used to" grop­ing women.

While many women have made their ex­pe­ri­ences pub­lic, le­gal set­tle­ments pre­vi­ously reached with We­in­stein have pre­vented oth­ers from speak­ing out. Mean­while, his em­ploy­ees — some of whom he re­port­edly as­saulted or ha­rassed as well — are bound by nondis­clo­sure agree­ments.

And such con­tracts were not the only tools that We­in­stein used to en­sure si­lence. As­pir­ing ac­tresses and ris­ing stars de­scribe fear­ing that the pow­er­ful pro­ducer could end their ca­reers if they spoke out against him. We­in­stein also turned the me­dia into a weapon: In at least one case, he fed neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion to re­porters about an ac­cuser who had gone to the po­lice.

Even if sto­ries of We­in­stein's abu­sive be­hav­ior never fully reached the pub­lic, they sur­faced in the form of hints and gos­sip and cir­cu­lated among women who warned each other to be wary. But not only women knew. The Times' re­port­ing shows that the board of We­in­stein's com­pany, which re­cently forced him out, had been aware of al­le­ga­tions of mis­be­hav­ior since at least 2015 but never con­ducted an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. We­in­stein, who of­ten re­lied on the pres­ence of fe­male em­ploy­ees to help draw in vic­tims, sur­rounded him­self with what the New Yorker de­scribes as a "cul­ture of com­plic­ity."

This same com­plic­ity pro­tects many Har­vey We­in­steins in many in­dus­tries. Fox News chief ex­ec­u­tive Roger Ailes left the net­work in 2016 af­ter rev­e­la­tions sur­faced of his per­sis­tent sex­ual ha­rass­ment of fe­male em­ploy­ees, and an­chor Bill O'Reilly de­parted the fol­low­ing year — both of whom Fox News pro­tected from ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions by pay­ing out mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar set­tle­ments to their ac­cusers. And any hon­est ac­count­ing of men whose power shields them from con­se­quences must in­clude the oc­cu­pant of the Oval Of­fice, who boasted about sex­ual as­sault and whom mul­ti­ple women have ac­cused of ha­rass­ment.

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