Weinstein Accusations Unveil a Disturbing Pattern of Institutionalized Sexual Abuse

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On Oct. 5, the New York Times published an investigatory article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that revealed accusations of sexual assault, harassment and rape perpetrated by world-renowned film producer Harvey Weinstein. Upon its release, several more women came forward to detail their own experiences with Weinstein, including such actresses as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.

As of Oct. 23, over 50 women have come forward with accusations against Weinstein ranging from exhibitionism to rape. The earliest cases are alleged to have occurred in the early 1980s, just at the time Weinstein rose to prominence in the film industry.

After taking a short leave of absence from The Weinstein Company, Weinstein was officially fired Oct. 8 in response to the allegations. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences removed him from the board Oct. 14.

Although no charges have officially been filed, there is an open investigation into the allegations. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Oct. 23 that his office would be looking into civil rights violations within The Weinstein Company. The Civil Rights Bureau sent a subpoena requesting any documents concerning sexual harassment, assault or abuse and hiring and firing procedures from the company.

Because he has been a prolific donator to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Weinstein’s connection to the Democratic Party attracted much attention in the wake of the accusations. The DNC donated $30,000, the amount Weinstein contributed in the last campaign cycle, to EMILY’s List, an organization supporting pro-choice female politicians, and Higher Heights, an organization supporting black women running for office. However, $30,000 is estimated to be only 10 percent of the total amount Weinstein has donated to the DNC. Many people found the DNC’s attempt at reparation lackluster and disingenuous. The public pressured Democratic politicians to denounce Weinstein, and many responded by donating Weinstein’s contributions to nonprofit groups that support female victims of abuse.

Weinstein’s response to the allegations transformed as accusations accumulated. Initially, Weinstein attempted to evade fault for past actions by releasing a statement Oct. 5 attributing his actions to his mid-20th-century upbringing. Later, he used lawyers as a medium to relay a strong denial. When actress Lupita Nyong’o released an essay about Weinstein’s unsolicited advances upon her, he responded saying that he had a “different recollection of events.”

As actresses detailed their traumatizing encounters with Weinstein, the hashtag “#MeToo” flooded popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where users recounted their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment. This movement drew attention to the pervasiveness of the issue and created a web of support and solidarity for victims.

The Weinstein revelation unveiled institutionalized abuse of power that extends far beyond the entertainment industry. Many notable figures in spheres ranging from sports to politics used the “#MeToo” as a venue to speak about abuse they’ve encountered. Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney detailed her harrowing experiences with a team doctor who sexually abused her and other gymnasts under the guise of “medical treatment.” Sens. Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp and Mazie Hirono spoke of the abuse and harassment they endured throughout their professional lives.

Oftentimes used as a depraved means of career advancement, sexual assault permeates hierarchical structures everywhere, victimizing those who seek upward mobility. Actresses met with Weinstein under the pretense of networking or possibility of career advancement only to be compelled into engaging in some sort of sexual act with Weinstein.

Many are asking about the seemingly abrupt exposition of institutionalized sexual abuse and particularly of Weinstein’s alleged crimes: Why now? Reports against Weinstein were filed as far back as the late 1980s. Other women never spoke out about attacks that occurred years ago until the story entered the mainstream.

The issue with so many of these cases is that they are perpetrated by individuals in positions of power. Victims are usually subservient and in roles where they would face detrimental blows to their careers should they attempt to “undermine” a far more influential individual within the industry, so they stay silent. In Weinstein’s case, his encompassing power stifled the voices of victims either by means of fear or force. Now, with such grand demonstrations of support among victims in a multitude of industries, consequences of speaking out seem far less damaging, and silencing by higher-ups is far less simple. That’s why more victims come forward every day.

The significant amount of publicity the Weinstein case is receiving reflects the public’s shock at the magnitude of the issues involved. Now that mass attention is being drawn to the severity of sexual assault and harassment, especially within American industries, many are hopeful investigations will be more quickly executed and reparations more efficiently made. Despite the dark circumstances of the Weinstein revelation, optimism can still be found for those who expect a resultant cultural shift in attitudes toward sexual assault and harassment.

Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone.

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