I find myself saddened, angry and disgusted that, once again, the news is filled with stories about a powerful man of influence — in this case, film producer Harvey Weinstein — who has allegedly used his position to systematically harass and sexually abuse women over a period of decades.
What makes this situation so bad is that, yet again, many people around him knew what Mr. Weinstein was allegedly doing but allowed his behaviour to continue unchecked. It’s not just the fact that Weinstein has purportedly been abusing women for decades that offends me; it’s the fact that at least some part of his behaviour was a well-known “secret” in Hollywood.
Many questions come to my mind. For example, “Why did Mr. Weinstein think that he could behave so badly toward women and get away with it?”
I wonder, “Why can a man spend years sexually harassing and abusing women and all his colleagues allow it to go on?”
Another question I have is, “Why did his victims remain silent until now?”
Interestingly, the answer I’ve come up with is the same for all three questions.
The decks are totally stacked against women when it comes to sexual harassment, abuse and assault.
I believe that the reason why Mr. Weinstein thought he could get away with his egregious behaviour, why those around him turned a blind eye to it and why his victims remained silent is this: the decks are totally stacked against women when it comes to sexual harassment, abuse and assault.
I think that we live in a culture that’s fundamentally misogynistic, in which women continue to be objectified, sexualized and harassed with little said or done about such things.
You only have to look at side-by-side visual representations of men and women in the media to note the glaring discrepancies. Men are portrayed as exciting, adventurous, strong, bold or intelligent. Women are almost exclusively portrayed as sexy and alluring.
Even female doctors, lawyers and scientists who appear in the media to comment on various topics more often than not show up for their interviews in low-necked tops and high-heeled shoes. The expectation by the TV studios is that, as females, they must prioritize their attractiveness over their expertise.
A Business Insider article discusses 10 female news anchors who’ve been fired because they were deemed no longer sexually attractive. Open any magazine, including the liberal-leaning Vanity Fair, and you’ll consistently see female celebrities posing in their underwear, while their male counterparts are photographed in their jeans.
For far too long, women haven’t been treated fairly at the workplace, by the police or in the courts when trying to obtain justice around experiences of sexual harassment or assault. I give several examples of this in my recent HuffPost Canada blog. It’s almost impossible for a woman to be taken seriously when she comes forward with such a complaint. As a result, far too many women simply give up and don’t bother.
Things have barely changed since the times not too long ago when a woman’s entire sexual history was dragged in front of the court during the trial of her accused rapist. Her alleged assailant had more rights, and certainly more rights to privacy, than his victim(s) ever did.Sadly, even the recent Jian Ghomeshi trial has borne this out.
It’s no wonder that Mr. Weinstein’s alleged victims remained silent and his colleagues failed to address his behaviour. The helplessness we all feel when dealing with issues of sexual abuse is overwhelming.
Only a small fraction of the reports of sexual assault see the inside of a courtroom.
According to this poll, 71 per cent of the women who did report the assault to the police had an overall negative experience, with almost 80 per cent of this group feeling either “abandoned” or “devastated” as a result.
In fact, “some survivors report that the detailed investigation by law enforcement can make them feel further violated and not believed, a situation researchers have termed the ‘second rape’ or ‘secondary victimization.'”
In terms of cases going to court, only a small fraction of the reports of sexual assault see the inside of a courtroom, with an even tinier number of convictions, and even then, sentences are more like slaps on the wrist than meaningful consequences for the nature of the crimes.
A study from the U.K. Center for Research on Violence Against Women found that only 37 per cent of reported rape cases and only 14 to 18 per cent of reported sexual assaults of any kind were prosecuted. The study also found that the rate of conviction was only around 18 per cent.
The biggest bombshell of this study is that “if the total number of rapes based on victimization surveys instead of only those reported to police are considered, only three to four per cent of rape incidents lead to a conviction.”
In an article by Janette Gagnon for CNN, she discussed the case of college athlete Brock Turner who received a six-month sentence for the sexual assault of a sleeping woman. She explains in her article how common it is for young athletes to get off with a light sentence.
In her article, Ms. Gagnon quotes Philadelphia prosecutor Jennifer Long, who says that “far too often we look at perpetrators in a less blameworthy way and minimize what happened to the victim.”
According to recent U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, “for each convicted offender in a prison or jail there are… three offenders under probation or parole supervision in the community.”
We live in a culture of misogyny, where lip service is paid to women’s rights.
These statistics note that for convicted rapists “the average sentence they… received (was) about 6.5 years, while the average time served (was)… just under three years.”
This seems awfully short when we consider that federal felony drug offenders received average sentences of over seven years and those convicted of robbery had sentences equal to those convicted of rape.
We live in a culture of misogyny, where lip service is paid to women’s rights. We are still seen in the media as sex objects to be displayed for the delectation of male audiences and we are still viewed by the workplace, the police and in the courts as not sufficiently valuable that our complaints of sexual abuse be seriously addressed.
Until things start to change — and I don’t see this happening anytime soon under the current U.S. administration — men like Mr. Weinstein will continue to have carte blanche around sexually harassing and assaulting the innocent women they come into contact with.
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Author: Marcia Sirota