There is a crucial lesson that could be overlooked in the reports from women who say they were sexually assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein: While his alleged offenses may be especially egregious, he is only the poster boy. The problem goes far beyond him.
This is plainly a cultural issue – one in which too many men feel entitled to force themselves on women and in which too many women feel too ashamed or powerless to report what was done to them. Both need to change. Maybe they are.
The latest report in the New York Times, which broke the Weinstein story just three weeks ago, credibly details claims of rape and other sexual assaults going back to the 1970s. One occurred when Weinstein worked in Buffalo, the Times reported.
He invited a new employee, Hope Exiner d’Amore, to accompany him to New York City, where she could learn about the movie industry, which interested her. When they got there, the Times reported, Weinstein announced a mistake at the hotel and said they would have to share a room. There, she said, Weinstein forced himself on her sexually.
The Times story also featured credible, detailed reports from three other women of egregious sexual misconduct by Weinstein.
If it was just Weinstein, though, the story wouldn’t have the radiating significance that it does. It would be an aberration. But since the story broke, many women have come forward to report sexual harassment or abuse from other men in powerful positions. And there were many before him. We know some of their names.
Where previous stories had little aftereffect, something is different with this one. The sordid Weinstein story seems to have broken a dam. Maybe something has changed. Silence hurts, but now, women are coming forward. That can only be helpful. These women are reclaiming their power and deserve all the praise they are receiving, as well as the thanks of others who may feel emboldened to come forward.
It’s not just up to women, though. It’s the perpetrators who have to be deterred and, in that, men must play a critical role.
Plenty of men knew about Weinstein’s depredations and did nothing to stop them. Plenty more men in power will continue to think they can intimidate women into tolerating their abuses by playing on the fear of losing their jobs or not being believed or being otherwise punished, disrespected or ignored for reporting sexual assaults or other conduct no one should have to tolerate.
In Washington, there is talk of mandatory anti-harassment training on Capitol Hill. It’s a wise idea, one that state legislatures and other governments should implement, as well.
In government or in business, administrators need to be explicit about the penalties for such conduct. People who have been victimized need to know who they can report it to, understanding that their complaint will be treated seriously.
That could have stopped Weinstein, if his board of directors had been clear years ago. Its members dumped him – after retaining him became impossible – but how many women might have been spared if the board had taken an interest years ago? Other boards should take note.
Some will say it was a different time then, offering the excuse that “boys will be boys.” It wasn’t acceptable then and it isn’t now.
Someone’s report today could spare another person from assault years from now. If that happens, maybe something useful will be wrung from the filth that drenches the story of Harvey Weinstein.