None of your favorite actors are safe to like. Literally — literally — every day, yet another prominent male figure makes the front page, slapped with claims of verbal harassment, or public masturbation, or physical assault, or rape, or molestation, or…or…or…
In the Media…
Since October of 2017, over 50 celebrity men have been accused of various forms of sexual harassment. While the list of the accused is substantial, it is dwarfed by the number of victims that have come forward. Many of the accused have received complaints from multiple individuals. To name just a few…
- Celebrity chef John Besh — author of seven books, guest star on shows like Iron Chef America and Top Chef, and runner-up in The Next Iron Chef — has been accused of sexual harassment by 25 women.
- Producer Chris Savino, known for working on children’s shows such as Powerpuff Girls, Hey Arnold!, and Samurai Jack, has 12 women claiming he sexually harassed them and behaved inappropriately towards them.
- Kevin Spacey has 24 male actors and staff members with claims of groping, attempted rape, and statutory rape—his list of accusers include a former Norwegian prince.
- Harvey Weinstein has a record-breaking +80 victims speaking out, a number that continues to grow, and is slowly revealing decades of rape, harassment, and demanding sex in exchange for movie roles.
This morning, a friend asked for my thoughts on another recently-accused household name: Former Today host Matt Lauer. While he admittedly did not follow the details of the story closely, the number of similar situations had made him concerned about the potential formation of a “slippery slope” — of men being fired for making passes at women at work, or innocent, occasional flirtation.
“Do you think someone really deserves to be fired for pinching someone?” he asked.
“It depends,” I said, “I’d have to know more about it. But I doubt that’s all it was.”
A quick Google search revealed the extent of the allegations against Lauer…
In addition to claims that Lauer regularly pinched former co-host Katie Couric’s ass, he has also been accused of giving a colleague a sex toy (with explicit details on how he’d like to use it on her), summoning a woman to his office and dropping his pants (then becoming angry when she turned him down), and asking female producers about their sexual history, while sharing stories about his own successful lays.
In Our Daily Lives…
”Damn, girl, you’re about to get somebody in trouble! Can I take your picture sometime?”
“I think Al Franken was just a ‘touchy-feely’ kinda guy. These charges seem to have been blown way out of proportion.”
“But a lot of these things end up being just made up by someone looking to make money off of a hot button issue. If you look at the Duke Lacrosse case…”
“Hey beautiful, what you look so sad for? Smile!”
“When you get a group of women together, they just can’t work together.”
These are a few quotes that stand out most strongly from my own personal experiences with sexual harassment, and my discussions about the topic with men. The men that these quotes belong to are coworkers, scientific researchers, doctors, strangers on the street. The list of similar quotes are innumerable, and—in some cases—forgotten. They are not forgotten because of their insignificance, or lack of violation, but because there are so many that—at this point—they have become drops in the ocean.
On three separate occasions, I tried to stand up for myself after instances of abuse. One was a man at work. After months of daily sexual comments and jokes, I finally decided to report him after he tracked me down on social media by using my signature to find out my last name, and asked if he could take pictures of me. He had a mandatory meeting with HR, and I was assured everything I said would be confidential. The next time I saw him, he laughed at me, telling me about the “great” meeting he had with his manager and HR, and how he assured them that I really just “misunderstood” and “misread” what he had said.
Another time was an attempt to press charges against sexual abuse I had suffered as a child. The police told me that — since I could not tell at age 10 if my abuser had had an erection during the assaults — they couldn’t do anything to help me.
My final attempt was much less formal or optimistic. I walked up to a cop who in an Arby’s parking lot, and asked him what he could do about a man that had tried to date rape me several months earlier. At first, he looked me up and down, smiled somewhat lecherously, and asked if I had been “following” him. Then, he said “Well…there’s just nothin’ we can do, since he let you go.” I had wrenched myself from my attacker’s grip and fled from his apartment, where I wandered strange streets in a new city alone and drunk until I was able to call a ride home. Because he did not run after me, because he “let me go,” it was okay.
I have long since given up on speaking out about any other instances of sexual assault or harassment, save a few tearful conversations with those closest to me, who sympathize and offer their condolences and righteous anger towards my abuser(s). So have most other victims. Why speak, when no one will listen? Why seek justice, when we will only face accusations and slut-shaming? It is better to stay silent, and slip back into the crowd unnoticed.
In the Courts…
Over 320,000 people age 12 and older are sexually assaulted every year. It would be ridiculous to assume that this applies only to the creepy, unemployed uncles, or the hooded thugs in dark alleys, but— aside from the occasional political “toe-tapping” scandal— they are typically the only stories of sexual harassment and abuse we hear about on the news. When something does come out about celebrities victimizing someone weaker (physically, financially, politically, etc) than them, it is the public’s knee-jerk reaction to question the integrity of the victim, rather than the accused.
Yet, despite this commonality that all women share—the almost daily harassment by the men who stand over them in every segment of our lives—we are too often discounted, and told our stories are “blown out of proportion” or “made up.” When the men (and sometimes women) are pressed to explain their beliefs, they usually refer back to the only case they can remember that involved dishonesty on the part of the victim: The Duke Lacrosse Case.
If you’ve followed sexual harassment claims in the media at all in the past decade, you are familiar with this story. The case that set the precedent for any sexual assault victim’s integrity to be questioned—the case that has since been held up as a beacon of “Well, actually” whenever someone needs to discount the validity of a similar assault. Repeated almost exclusively by men, this defense is almost always preceded by “Now, I’m not excusing what they did, but…” Starting a defense of multiple accused rapists by saying you’re not excusing what they did is like someone starting a statement with, “I’m not a racist, but…” You can practically guarantee that they are about to power through and say something awful.
It is worth noting that Crystal Mangum — the victim in the Duke Lacrosse case — still believes to this day that she was sexually assaulted. Most people who refer to the case tend to die on the hill of “but the DNA evidence didn’t match!” Even if Mangum had not been raped, it is still possible — and even likely — that she was assaulted. Also, the case never went to trial, as the university settled out of court after the prosecuting district attorney, Mike Nifong, had charges brought against him for being “too outspoken” and concealing DNA evidence.
The persons in this case are—like all of us—flawed. They are human. Nifong was disbarred for withholding the DNA evidence. Mangum is now spending 14–18 years behind bars for a second-degree murder conviction over her boyfriend’s death — a man she stabbed in self-defense as he pinned her down and beat and choke her. Mangum never said she lied about the assault, as so many so readily claim. But she has a sketchy past, and she ultimately lost the case, so we decided she lied.
It is reasons like these that women have long remained silent about their assaults. Any attempts to speak up about the abuse, and we are instantly scrutinized and judged. We are “alleged” victims. We paid our way through college through exotic dancing, so we were asking for it and probably would have fucked them anyways. We are poor, or our abusers are higher up on the socioeconomic food chain, so we are discounted.
Women like Katherine Kendall, Ashley Judd, and Mimi Haleyi are trailblazers fighting against this norm. At risk of their careers, they have called their accusers into the limelight and demanded to be heard. They have formed the ship’s bow against the relentless waves of doubt, shame, and slander victims of sexual assault face every time they speak up. We must not let them be the only ones. We must not let ourselves sink into anonymity and regret.