Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three part series, in which Laura Valkovic explores sexual abuse in Hollywood — including the #metoo movement — and in our culture in general.
Recent weeks have brought to light a litany of accusations against an increasingly large number of well-known men in what is being treated as one huge scandal with an ever-expanding list of offenders. Rather than reviewing the merits of each case separately, the public is being encouraged to see the whole thing as one writhing mass of sexual impropriety, with every offense condemned according to the same level of outrage and moral indignation.
With thousands of women coming forward to join the #metoo campaign on Twitter, it would seem that we are living in constant danger of being assaulted by perverts. One wonders if all of these incidents can be fairly classified as “assault” or “harassment”? In a world where the definition of “rape” is being broadened by feminists to include regretted one-night stands – where even looking at someone in an unwelcome way can be classed as harassment — any man publicly accused of sexual assault is sure to find himself in front of a figurative firing squad, regardless of the severity of his actions.
DEFINING SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Sexual harassment is often defined as “unwelcome sexual advances,” yet the word harassment generally implies ongoing or aggressive behavior. The fact is that, beyond obviously aggressive behavior, no man can really know whether a sexual advance, joke, or even gaze is unwelcome until a woman tells him so. If a man is corrected, apologizes, and discontinues the behavior, is it really harassment? According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
Harvey Weinstein has confessed and certainly appears to fit the profile of a serial sexual predator and even rapist, but some of the accusations we’ve seen in the recent furor seem to describe isolated and unaggressive incidents. While many of the Hollywood allegations are shocking, perhaps we should look to the U.K. as an example of where an atmosphere of sexual paranoia can lead.
In an odd twist of fate, Britain’s Westminster parliament (aka “Sexminster” aka “Pestminster”) has been outed as a hotbed of sexual indiscretion simultaneously with the scandals in the United States, and it’s in the U.K. that the disturbing consequences of a feminist witch hunt have emerged. British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon was the first fatality: forced to resign for his “completely disgusting” behavior of putting his hand on one journalist’s knee 30 years ago, and attempting to kiss another, in 2002. Fallon is now publicly labeled a “sex pest,” with a career and personal reputation in tatters.
WHERE’S THE EVIDENCE?
Much ado is made about the reluctance many victims have of coming forward after a sexual assault, with many feminists claiming that fear of not being believed is a primary reason. However tricky it may be for a woman (or man) to come forward, it can’t be right to blindly accept every allegation before reviewing the evidence. Our criminal justice system is based on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” yet this seems to be less and less true when it comes to sexual assault cases.
Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. are among those who have confessed, though many others vehemently deny the accusations made against them. In a scenario where no evidence has or will be produced, how can the public determine guilt?
“I am as shocked and bewildered at these claims as you must feel reading them,” tweeted George Takei, accused of attempted rape against former model Scott R. Brunton. Right now, it is a he said / he said situation, over alleged events nearly 40 years ago. But those that know me understand that non-consensual acts are so antithetical to my values and my practices, the very idea that someone would accuse me of this is quite personally painful.”
Who can say what really happened? We are unlikely to find proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, yet it’s almost inevitable that Takei and his fellow accused will spend the rest of their days as sex offenders in the eyes of the public. This can have tragic personal consequences, as Britain again demonstrates with the tragic suicide of Welsh minister Carl Sergeant, who was fired after allegations of sexual assault, despite never having the “privilege” to find out what he was actually accused of.
THE REAL COST FOR MEN AND WOMEN
With public and industry hysteria mounting with every accusation, we must be careful to believe every allegation we hear, despite a complete lack of evidence and an increasing focus on minutia. We have gone from Harvey Weinstein committing rape to Adam Sandler putting his hand on an actress’s knee on-air. No one has yet accused Sandler of sexual harassment, merely “sexism,” though the trend is heading in the direction of the trivial.
The real tragedy that results from such a free-for-all is not only the ruination of the accused who have no means to defend themselves, but that every account of “he looked at me wrong” and “he touched my knee,” drowns out cries for help from genuine rape victims. The #metoo campaign seeks to empower victims, but if almost anything can be classed as sexual harassment, if every woman who has suffered a wrongheaded come-on is a victim (even the ones that don’t class themselves as victims), we trivialize the legitimate trauma of people who actually have been assaulted and raped.