Weinstein proves we need more than awareness around sexual assault

Weinstein proves we need more than awareness around sexual assault

Harvey Weinstein has amassed more than fifty accusations of sexual harassment and thirteen accusations of sexual assault. That the number was able to climb so high says a lot about the permissive environment that powerful, high-profile men find themselves in; surrounded by people who are either afraid to speak up or too busy engaging in similar activities to notice or care.

Reporting sexual assault and harassment can be a frightening process for victims who don’t want to harm their reputations or careers if their accusations aren’t taken seriously, or who want to avoid reliving their trauma for the sake of legal proceedings. When only 3% of rapists ever spend a day in jail, it’s not surprising that many the victims of sexual assault and harassment often find their voices being silenced. 

Harvey Weinstein was only able to avoid drawing national attention to his crimes for so long with the help of passive bystanders who permitted and even encouraged his behavior via their silence. It’s implausible that those who worked in close proximity with Weinstein were completely unaware of his alleged sexual assault and harassment of over fifty actresses, models and other women he encountered in the film industry. 

So why did all of his co-workers stay silent? The average sexual assault case doesn’t involve a famous producer, over fifty accusers and a whole slew of probable accomplices; rather, the average sexual assault involves the same types of behaviors and social problems on a much smaller scale.

In the wake of accusations against Harvey Weinstein regarding sexual assault and harassment, news sites and social media platforms alike have seen an uptick in content about sexual assault. The #MeToo hashtag in particular has taken the internet by storm in recent weeks. Despite its narrow focus (in that it excludes male victims), the intent of the hashtag is great; talking about sexual assault needs to happen so that we can address it. 

However, there’s only so much that posts on social media platforms can accomplish. The fact of the matter is that we’ve been talking about sexual assault and rape culture for years and years. While it’s great that these issues are gaining more exposure and that people seem to be increasingly more comfortable discussing such issues, we’ve seen far too little change in the way that society at large approaches the subject of sexual abuse and misconduct. 

The women who participated in the #MeToo campaign are brave for sharing what they’ve been through with the world, and I don’t want to detract from that. Still, the #MeToo hashtag does little more than reaffirm what we already know: sexual abuse is a huge problem, and despite years of talking about it, nothing’s really changed. The problem is that while we all know it happens, too few people are brave enough to actively work to build and maintain workplaces and social spaces that are less permissive of sexual harassment and assault. 

So if talking about sexual abuse isn’t enough, then what is? What constitutes “taking action”? A major way to improve the way that people conceptualize sexual misconduct would be for more people who are in positions of power and privilege to use their positions to punish perpetrators of sexual abuse and to help their victims.

Harvey Weinstein wouldn’t have allegedly harmed so many women if he weren’t a powerful man working in an industry where sexual crimes go unnoticed and unpunished all the time. Had his colleagues, particularly his male colleagues who may have been taken more seriously by authorities, spoken up when they knew abuse was going on, Weinstein might’ve been stopped before he allegedly hurt so many people.

Regardless of whether you work for a high-profile producer in Hollywood or just a “regular” job, it’s up to individual people to do their part to speak up when something isn’t right, and to report suspected sexual assaults to authorities. 

Most people will tell you they’re morally opposed to sexual harassment and assault. But how many people turn a blind eye at parties when they see someone too drunk (or drugged) to stand being dragged away from the party by someone with malicious intentions? How many people will actually speak up when a coworker touches another coworker inappropriately in the office? How many people are brave enough to match their actions to their values? 

The #MeToo campaign was a well-intentioned attempt to draw attention to an issue that we already know is an issue. At this point, it requires willful ignorance to not know that far too many men and women are victims of sexual harassment and assault. 

The question is, how much do you care? Are you willing to challenge the norms our society has unfortunately accepted, even if it means you might make some waves? Harvey Weinstein’s co-workers weren’t willing to, and fifty-something accusers later it seems that many women paid the price.

Cassie Kuhn is a sophomore majoring in political science and mathematics. Her column runs biweekly. 

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