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Why (Some) Powerful Creeps Are Finally Starting To Face Consequences

12/10/2017 8:09 AM AEDT
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It takes a village to bring down a powerful creep.

For Harvey Weinstein, it took Ashley Judd, who told The New York Times that during a breakfast meeting 20 years ago, Weinstein “appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower.” It took Laura Madden, who told the Times that Weinstein “prodded her for massages” in hotel rooms in 1991. It took Jessica Barth, who reported having a similar encounter with Weinstein, this time in 2011. It took Gwyneth Paltrow, who told The New York Times that, when she was 22, Weinstein ended a work meeting by “placing his hands on her and suggesting they head to the bedroom for massages.” It took Judith Godrèche, who said Weinstein asked for a massage, and then proceeded to try and take off her sweater. It took Mira Sorvino, who told the New Yorker that Weinstein once began massaging her, eventually “sort of chasing [her] around” in an attempt to do more. It took Rosanna Arquette, who said Weinstein tried to force her to give him a massage, finally grabbing her hand and pulling it toward his erect penis. It took Asia Argento, an Italian actress and director, who said Weinstein asked her for a massage, and then proceeded to force her legs open and perform oral sex on her as she protested.

It took Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who said she was once left alone with the producer in a hotel room “and didn’t know how to deal with his aggressive advances.” It took Romola Garai, who said she showed up to a hotel room for an audition when she was 18 and was greeted by Weinstein, wearing only a bathrobe; he allegedly proceeded to force himself on her. It took Tomi-Ann Roberts, who said she showed up to a hotel room for a meeting and was summoned to Weinstein, who was nude in the bathtub. It took Angelina Jolie, who said that Weinstein harassed her in a hotel room. It took Liza Campbell, who said that Weinstein asked her to “jump in the bath” with him. It took Emma de Caunes, who said she was convinced to go to Weinstein’s hotel room to retrieve a book, where he proceeded to come out of the bathroom naked and demand she lie on the bed with him. It took Cara Delevigne, who said Weinstein pushed her to come up to his hotel room, and then asked her to kiss another woman and kiss him. It took Emily Nestor, who said she was offered a career boost ― also at a hotel ― in exchange for consenting to Weinstein’s sexual advances. When she demurred, Weinstein reportedly bragged that “that he’d never had to do anything like Bill Cosby.”

It took Lucia Evans, who said that in 2004 she was invited to a daytime casting meeting. She was eventually left alone with Weinstein, where he allegedly “forced [her] to perform oral sex on him.” It took Katherine Kendall, who said Weinstein exposed himself to her and chased her around his apartment. It took Dawn Dunning, who said Weinstein propositioned her for a three-way in exchange for roles. It took Zelda Perkins, who said Weinstein acted inappropriately toward her and her female colleagues. It took Lauren Sivan, who said Weinstein cornered her and then masturbated into a potted plant. It took Louisette Geiss, who said Weinstein also tried to force her to watch him masturbate. It took Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, an Italian model, who in 2015 went to Weinstein’s office to discuss her career, where, she said, he proceeded to grab her breasts and put his hands up her skirt. The next day, she went back to his hotel wearing a wire, where he pressured her to come up to his room again. “Don’t ruin your friendship with me over 5 minutes,” he says in the audio, which was obtained by the New Yorker.

A solitary accuser is seen as an opportunist, a gold-digger. Twenty accusers cannot be dismissed so easily. The Weinstein saga is a vivid illustration of the dreary principle that only a community can bring down a man who enjoys a certain kind of power.

It took more than 20 women in all for the full measure of Weinstein’s monstrousness to become known, women who came forward by name with allegations against the Hollywood producer that range from sexual harassment to rape. And that’s to say nothing of the several women who shared their stories with The New York Times and New Yorker anonymously. (Weinstein, via his representatives, has told the press that “any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein” and that he considered these “relationships” to be “consensual.”)

Had it been a single accuser, Weinstein would not have been ousted from his own company. We can say this with some certainty because Ambra Battilana Gutierrez had gone to the cops with her story in 2015 and was only smeared in the tabloid press for her troubles. Even though the cops had audio in which the mogul admits to having groped Gutierrez, Weinstein was never charged.

A solitary accuser is seen as an opportunist, a gold-digger. Twenty accusers cannot be dismissed so easily. The Weinstein saga is a vivid illustration of the dreary principle that only a community can bring down a man who enjoys a certain kind of power. It has followed a by-now familiar pattern:

Step 1: A powerful man has a reputation in certain circles for predatory behavior toward women.

Step 2: After years of open secrets (and perhaps even individual stories trickling out in the press), a media outlet manages to report out the allegations, tying them all together.

Step 3: Social media signal boosts these allegations, and mass outrage ensues. The pressure leads to a loss of public standing or the loss of a job or maybe a lawsuit.

Bill Cosby had solitary accusers who had been telling their stories, in some cases for years. It was only when the “shes” turned into a “they” ― 60 in all! ― that Cosby’s image and career were impacted. The same goes for Roger Ailes (10 accusers) and Bill O’Reilly (six accusers).

These high-profile cases signal a shift in women’s willingness to speak up about sexual harassment and assault, and the cultural reaction to such allegations. This can be attributed to a variety of factors: more transparency surrounding workplace protections, greater media attention to such incidents, and the way social media has changed how we consume and discuss those stories in the first place.

The contagiousness of social media responses can sometimes facilitate swift, sustained outrage. However, not every case of alleged sexual harassment or assault spurs mass anger, and not all that do translate into real consequences for the alleged perpetrator. (See: the President of the United States.) Even in this new era, it takes a critical mass of accusers and witnesses to bring a predatory creep toward the reckoning he deserves. And often the cries have to build up over years, until they are presented in one jarring exhibit.

After all, it’s far simpler to ignore a lone allegation, and there’s far more room to argue over a singular voice’s credibility and motivations ― all of which becomes more difficult when there are five or 15 or 60 eerily similar stories next to each other.

President Trump remains the most glaring exception to this slow cultural shift. In 2016 alone, a tape was released of him openly bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” without their consent, and 15 women publicly accused him of sexual assault or misconduct.

And yet, Trump has faced little-to-no recourse from his supporters and party, outside of some halfhearted condemnations. He was elected to the highest office in the nation. He has proceeded to institute policies that actively hurt women ― like expanding the global gag rule, allowing states to withhold federal funding from Planned Parenthood, and rolling back protections for women workers and the birth control mandate.

On Monday, RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel told Wolf Blitzer that the allegations against Weinstein and Trump are “not even comparable.” 

So, what explains this dissonance?

As Rebecca Traister pointed out in The Cut, Harvey Weinstein’s power in the entertainment industry was beginning to show signs of waning. The same could be said about Bill Cosby, who has not (yet) received any legal consequences for the dozens of sexual assault allegations he faces, but whose legacy and reputation have certainly been destroyed.

In contrast, Donald Trump’s star and political power were both on the rise when women began speaking out in large numbers about his allegedly inappropriate conduct. And because the allegations flooded out in the midst of a vicious presidential campaign, it became even easier for Trump’s supporters to convince themselves that the stories were lies, part of a plot by the unconventional candidate’s many powerful detractors.

Where a flood of women’s voices finally created a cost  ― either monetarily or publicity-wise ― for other powerful people, great enough to topple the careers of Weinstein, O’Reilly, Ailes and Cosby, a similar flood of voices did little to change the minds of Trump’s base or his powerful fans.

This speaks to an ugly truth about our cultural “progress” when it comes to grappling with sexual harassment and assault. We are willing to consider the validity of women’s narratives of sexual exploitation ― but only when forced to, and often only when we feel distanced from or oppositional toward the alleged perpetrator.

Essentially, the village doesn’t matter if a man is powerful enough to balance out the costs that might be incurred by keeping him around.

“There’s no evidence that America is unified about how serious and pervasive and damaging sexual violence is,” said Kristen Houser, Chief Public Affairs Officer for the NSVRC. “We’re happy to sit back in our seats and say, ‘Oh gosh, that’s horrible,’ but we as a culture have not yet decided that [sexual violence or misconduct] is a deal breaker. The closer that the perpetrator is to us ― either in reality or in terms of celebrity and hero worship ― [it becomes more] difficult to reconcile those things with allegations of wrongdoing.”

If you or anyone you know has had an experience with sexual misconduct in Hollywood, send us email: emma.gray@huffpost.com.

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