Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series, in which Laura Valkovic explores sexual abuse in Hollywood — including the #metoo movement — and in our culture in general. You can read the first part at Liberty Nation here.
Every political movement needs a sound bite and Feminists have a new one. “Don’t blame the victim! We mustn’t blame the victim!” comes the mantra around the sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein and others. At first, it seems to make sense. It’s hard to argue with the sentiment because on one level, it’s right: it is wrong to blame a genuine victim for the abuse they’ve suffered. But while it’s wrong to blame the victim, it’s also wrong to absolve them of accountability for what happens after the fact.
While the media response and #metoo Twitter campaign ostensibly offer women a platform to come forward with their own experiences of sexual assault, they paradoxically encourage women to see themselves as “victims” who have no responsibility for how they react to abuse. Certainly, any person who has been abused will justifiably struggle in the aftermath, but don’t they have a duty to themselves, and others, to stop future incidents from taking place? While not seeking to “blame” victims, we should scrutinize the actions of women who have simply stood by and let the abuse continue for decades.
VICTIMS OR ENABLERS?
One striking feature of the case against Harvey Weinstein is the sheer number of women coming forward with accusations. One count says that 82 victims have now made allegations against the man, though none chose to publicly come forward at the time or to make a police report. Some of these women, once hopeful actresses, were so disturbed by the reality of the industry they hoped to join, that they subsequently abandoned their careers. Others chose not only to stay in the industry, but to actually continue working with and publicly supporting their abuser; a behavior that is acceptable, according to the media.
Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, and Gwyneth Paltrow are among the most famous faces to jump on the bandwagon after the initial allegations made against Weinstein. To come forward now that it costs them nothing, after remaining silent for decades and allowing the abuse to continue to the detriment of dozens of other women, is hypocritical at best. If, as French actress Lea Seydoux claims, “Everyone knew what Harvey was up to and no one did anything,” then why shouldn’t we hold to account the people who allowed it to continue?
Ashley Judd, upon being propositioned, asked herself, “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” Hardly an attitude that would help future victims.
Paltrow didn’t mind continuing to work with Weinstein or posing with him as she accepted an Oscar. “We’re at a point in time when women need to send a clear message that this is over,” she now says, “this way of treating women ends now.” But if Gwen hadn’t selfishly put her career first, maybe this way of treating women would have ended 20 years ago.
Perhaps the most outrageously hypocritical enabler is Italian actress Asia Argento, who now derides Weinstein for allegedly raping her in 1997, yet signed a 2009 petition to free Roman Polanski, a known child rapist.
“Victim blaming” apparently refers to any response to a harassment scandal that doesn’t immediately condemn the accused. Simply asking the question “if you knew, why didn’t you do anything?” is called victim blaming. But it isn’t blame – it’s just a question, and a reasonable one.
The silence of decades is being justified because the victims were too scared to come forward, but are we right to accept such behavior? Rather than exonerating these women, it would be more effective to kindly but firmly tell them they were wrong to tolerate abuse.
It’s an established pattern that many victimized women do not report violent assaults; RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) statistics state that only one third of rapes are actually reported. Are we right to accept this? Perhaps we should expect that a woman has a duty to come forward, if only to get the perpetrator off the streets and prevent future assaults. It is largely because of this silence that so many rapists escape punishment and walk free to find another victim.
If we coddle women into believing that they are allowed to react to abuse in any way they want, including publicly supporting their abuser, women are the ones who will continue to suffer.
TAKE BACK POWER
If we women need to support each other, as the #metoo campaign sets out to do, then don’t we have a duty to support our gender by doing the hard thing and reporting sex offences immediately? Treat victims of abuse with compassion and understanding, but encourage them to turn their experience into a force for change. It’s not “victim blaming” to expect women to take responsibility and to wonder why, so far, they haven’t. Only with action will mistreated women empower themselves and prevent future abuse.
Rather than “don’t blame the victim,” which seeks to wrap women is a cozy blanket of self-pity and remove our agency, why not choose a slogan that empowers women to take back control and make a real change in their lives, and the lives of others? Here are some suggestions: “Don’t allow yourself to be bullied!” “Don’t keep silent, use your pain to help others!” “Don’t let this happen to somebody else!” “Report it now while you still have the evidence!” “You are more than just a victim – act now and you can stop this from happening again.”