5 Ways Hollywood Can Really Do Something About Sexual Assault | Sarah Stook

On the 7th January 2018, the 75th Golden Globes were held in Beverly Hills. The usual occurred- fawning over each other (apparently Oprah is the President we deserved), certain TV shows or films being overrepresented or underrepresented (Kyle McLachlan was robbed) and the various Trump jokes that are oh so original. This year, however, marked a serious change in tone.

Many of the women who arrived wore black dresses and no, this wasn’t because it was the fashion trend of the year. After Harvey Weinstein was exposed as a dirty man who raped and sexually assaulted his way to the top, silencing victims with his power and his network of allies, Hollywood was forced to look at itself. The fall of Weinstein opened Pandora’s Box, and soon, the assortment of Hollywood’s dirtiest were accused and exposed. The black dresses (and the black suits/tuxes/pins of the men) were worn in support of Time’s Up, Hollywood’s newest activist case. Time’s Up, founded and supported by many talented actors and actresses, was founded in order to show solidarity with the growing list of sexual victims and to give them the voice they didn’t seem to have pre-Weinstein. Not every woman wore black, but there was a sea of darkness trotting up and down the red carpet. Though the dress was obviously an activist symbol, presenters were encouraged to ‘Ask Her More,’ a movement which entails journalists acting red carpet starlets more than what designer they are wearing. That seems a bit of an oxymoron to me.

The wearing of black was both lauded and criticised. Some believed that it was a great way to show solidarity, considering how many wore black. It was also seen as an alternative to a Golden Globes boycott, which had been considered before they realised it would be brushing away the work of both women and the men who had not put their hands where they weren’t wanted. Others wondered what wearing a black dress had to do with anything. If one looks on social media, they will see a huge socio-political divide when seeing what people think. Some critics rolled their eyes, continuing the ‘liberal do-gooders’ narrative that have become popular in certain circles. No movement is universally received and historically it never has been, so it’s no surprise that some people love the idea and loathe it.

Hollywood, historically, has been a world apart from the real world. No matter what celebrities believe, where they shop and where they send their kids to school, there is that element of division. La La Land is not the only place where sexual harassment is a problem (politics and business have been exposed as less than perfect places), but it has been highlighted due to the Hollywood facade of glamour and moral superiority. Many point out that the Hollywood elite are quick to judge others, but do not face what is right under their noses in relation to what is happening to their co-workers or what their co-workers are doing. The situation of sexual assault has become politicised, which can be good or bad. It is good that it is being brought to a political level, but the Hollywood narrative is usually one sided. In dealing with sexual assault, it should be non-partisan.

So what can Hollywood do to? Here are five handy tips for the rich and famous:

  1. Stop working with abusers and stop defending them if you have.

‘Woody Allen is an extraordinary writer. He’s obviously known for having created extraordinary roles, very, very powerful and complicated roles for women, for many many years.’

The look on Margot Robbie’s face was a picture; the death stare she was giving Kate Winslet during a sit down with the Los Angeles Times spoke for us all. The actress, known for her roles in Wolf of Wall Street and Suicide Squad, looked incredulous at the fact Winslet was praising Allen, as did Jessica Chastain and Saoirse Ronan. Fair enough, Allen’s creative work is lauded, but you should not be defending that man or working with him. In an interview with the New York Times, Winslet had this to say:

‘Woody Allen is an incredible director. So is Roman Polanski. I had an extraordinary working experience with both of these men, and that’s the truth.’

I’m sure your bank account had an extraordinary experience too, Kate ($90 million), as did the bank accounts of Allen ($80 million) and Polanski ($45 million). Kate Winslet is an extremely bankable star, even twenty years on from her starring role in Titanic. By working with Allen and Polanski, she is helping them achieve fame and money, two things that they should not have. If they don’t have the opportunities to work on TV and films, they then will lose both fame and money, and it will also get them away from workplaces where they can easily prey on innocents. It is not the set designer or the producer that should be denied an opportunity to work on an amazing film; it should be creeps like Allen and Polanski who are denied these opportunities. Let me remind you what they are accused of:

  • Allen- Sexually assaulting his adopted seven year old daughter, Dylan Farrow (daughter of his now ex-wife Mia) in an attic. He is also married to a girl he helped raise, but that is not illegal, if morally questionable.
  • Polanski- In 1977, he asked a 13 year old girl to appear in a photo shoot. At the agreement of the girl’s mother, it was a private shoot. In the first shoot, the child was asked to perform topless. She was uncomfortable, but accepted a second shoot. At this event, she was drugged and raped orally, vaginally and anally. The child protested and fought, but eventually was too scared to continue struggling physically. Charged with five felonies, he eventually accepted a plea bargain with the charge of ‘unlawful sex with a minor.’ How long did he serve after being charged? 42 days. Before a proper sentence happened, Polanski fled to France and remains to this day to avoid extradition. There have been more accusations, but again he has not been charged so it shall remain uncommented for now. Polanski had a hard life, but there is absolutely NO excuse for it.

In 2009, Polanski was arrested in Zurich at the request of United States authorities. There was an outpouring of anger from our beloved Hollywood stars, many of whom signed a petition for his release. This list includes some personal favourites of mine, including David Lynch and Harrison Ford. Others did not sign the petition (what saints), but did defend the beloved rapist, including strong-minded Meryl Streep. Remember in 2003 at the Oscars when he got a standing ovation? Gotta love Hollywood.

Even worse, it was an open secret. I’m not talking about Allen and Polanski here; I’m talking about men like Weinstein. Young women were warned not to go alone with him or go up to his hotel room to discuss his ‘business meetings.’  For years, people knew yet it was all brushed under the rug as they acted like hypocrites. Matt Damon admitted that he knew that Weinstein had harassed Gwyneth Paltrow, having heard from close friend Ben Affleck. Why did he not stop working with the horrible man? He thought it had ‘been settled.’ This is not a financial or land dispute, you can’t settle sexual assault. Even if a person is arrested and jailed, it is not a settled manner. Damon also got into controversy by saying we should remember ‘the vast majority of Hollywood men who have not done something.’ It’s true most will be good men (or so we hope), but why should we reward them for doing the right thing?

The mind boggles.

To the women and men who refuse to condemn Harvey Weinstein (a quick Google can give you names) but still proudly shout ‘Time’s Up’ or march proudly at the Women’s March in D.C: please look at yourself.

 

  1. Remember that men can be victims and women can be abusers.

Women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault, in both the USA and Saudi Arabia. In the United States, 1 in 10 victims of rape are men and 3% of men have either been raped or been a victim of attempted rape. Men make up the majority of prisoners- 60% of prison rapes are by staff and 50% of encounters are not consensual. A 2017 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that 79% of men forced to penetrate non-consensually were victims of female perpetrators. 35% of reported male victims were in an assault with at least one female attacker. Female prisoners are more likely to be attacked by fellow inmates, but it is still a problem. Nine in ten juvenile prisoners spoke of female staff as opposed to men. 58% of female victims and 41% of male victims reported their attack as violent.

What does Hollywood say about these male victims and female perpetrators? Not a lot.

It seems that the majority of the movement seems to be focused on the male element- that Hollywood men lurk in the darkness of sets and dressing rooms, ready to pounce and threaten female stars- if they say anything, their career is dead (which is sadly true it seems). Yet, they forget women can rape, assault and harass. A pinch of a man’s buttocks, his genitals and threatening his career unless he sleeps with the woman/man happens, and it’s just as bad as when it happens to the ladies. It may be rarer for two reasons- statistically and the fact that men are far less likely to report it due to the strong stigma attached to it.

Anthony Rapp, an actor, accused Kevin Spacey of sexual assault and after this; numerous men came out to say that he had been inappropriate with them. The police have not said anything further, but Spacey is seeking ‘treatment’ for his behaviour, indicating that at least something is wrong.

The most disturbing thing is the apparent problem with paedophilia, and it has been spoken out against most notable by male celebrities. Corey Feldman and Corey Haim were known for vampire flick The Lost Boys as child stars, with Haim tragically dying in 2010. Since Haim’s death, Feldman has been outspoken about paedophilia and how he and Feldman were affected as children. The actor has stated how it is a bigger problem than sexual assault and it seems that whilst everybody else is focused on Me Too as women, they forget about innocent boys. Elijah Wood, most known for his starring role in Lord of the Rings, has also commented upon the issue. Rapp was underage when the assault from Spacey occurred, and other underage victims include the thirteen year old Polanski raped.

 

  1. Stop making it a witch hunt

In 2014, accusations came to light regarding beloved British singer Cliff Richard. When his Berkshire home was raided, the BBC came along with their cameras and recorded his home being searched by police officers. In that time, a man threatened to spread false stories about Richard unless he was paid. Nearly two years later, the police dropped their investigation. For those 21 months, Richard lived through hell and did not know whether he would go to prison. The BBC were strongly criticised for their involvement, and Richard still lives with the smears.

Richard is not Hollywood, but he is an example of what a witch hunt can do. Not every person accused is guilty and not every accuser is innocent. As soon as a new person is accused, everybody jumps on the bandwagon and squawks about how evil and demented they are (yet they’d probably work with them). False rape accusations are, to the credit of some, rare- 2-10% of cases and they extremely rarely lead to someone being imprisoned, but its rarity does not make it ok. What Cliff Richard went through was awful. Every so often, a news story will pop up on Twitter or Facebook about a man in America who was falsely accused and served a long sentence (Americans have much longer sentences for everything, including rape/sexual assault), before DNA or new evidence comes to light, exonerating them of the crime.

An American case of this occurred within the NFL occurred with Brian Banks, currently playing for the Atlanta Falcons. In 2002, he was accused by a classmate of rape. Encouraged to take a plea deal (his lawyer said that as a large, black man, he would not be believed due to preconceived race and gender stereotypes), he spent five years in jail, as well as five years on probation and life registration as a sex offender. Later on, in front of an attorney, the classmate admitted she had fabricated the entire life. Having sued for over $1 million, the woman refused to record her statement as she did not want to give the money back. Fortunately, she was on the receiving end of a successful $2.6 million countersuit.

I’m not going to say that this is solely a Hollywood problem, it is a societal problem. Victims are always (and very rightly) kept anonymous unless they waive that right and considering, as discussed earlier, false accusations are rare, this is an extremely important thing. Anonymity allows more people to come forward without fears of stigma or repercussions, which are a massive barrier to reporting. An important issue that keeps coming forward is that the accused should also have the same right to anonymity. Even when it is proven false, the accused will always face the stigma and shame- they lose a lot, as Richard and Banks did.

 

  1. Change doesn’t happen in a day

Women didn’t get the vote the day after the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was founded. African-Americans didn’t get full civil rights straight after the Brown v Board of Education decision. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and change doesn’t happen in a day.

Wearing black dresses was bringing attention to a problem, but it wasn’t like it wasn’t a new problem. The women made speeches, but the men remained silent- it seemed to be a mainly gendered response but not as big as they would have liked. Awards shows have been suffering from declining figures ever since they turned into annual versions of the Democratic National Convention and even if the Globes hadn’t have been political (I’m not talking about the sexual assault awareness, but the endless Trump jokes), the decline was inevitable. The ratings were the lowest since 2012, with a 5% decline from last year (19.0 million viewers down from 20.02 million last year).

When something is endemic in society, it will take years to change. Sexual assault in Hollywood has always been a major issue and whilst it was often reported in early years, the Weinstein scandal seemed to blow it wide open. Judy Garland was a teenager when she filmed the classic Wizard of Oz, yet was often groped by those who played the Munchkins, who were known for their deviant behaviour. The film will celebrate its 80th year next year and in those eighty years, sexual assault is still commonplace within the industry. Attitudes about women and sex have changed a lot since then, but the cover-ups, fear and scandal remain. Wearing black will not stop actors and actresses working with convicted rapists and it won’t stop a high powered director putting his or her grubby hands on a young extra.

The exposure will help (as long as it’s handled correctly), as those who have committed wrongdoings in Hollywood will know that it will not be as hushed up…for now. Hollywood has a very short memory when it comes to sexual deviance (Polanski and Allen) so it won’t be a surprise if the people who have been outed as creeps now will be working again in 10 years. Sexual assault is endemic in Hollywood and that is something that will be incredibly hard to crack. In twenty, thirty years, victims will still suffer and be silenced, threatened and belittled. That is fundamental in this movement. For whatever it’s worth, at least a movement is being started because it begins the slow process. There will still be assault and rape in twenty, thirty years but at we hope that at least punishments will be handled better and people like Weinstein won’t have the insane level of power he had.

 

  1. Don’t make it partisan, work with everyone.

A lot of people have criticised Hollywood for its hypocrisy. They decry Donald Trump as a misogynist and a rapist, but hush up sexual abuse cases in their own backyard and continue working with people who have actually done jail time for bad things.

Here is where it gets interesting for me. Regardless of whether you believe Trump’s accusers or not (it tends to run on partisan lines if you look at polls), his victims still have a right to their day in court and Trump still has a right to defend himself. One may be right, another may be wrong. Hollywood is hypocritical yes, and they need to call people out regardless of political affiliation. Let’s zone in on Bill Clinton here. Hillary Clinton is LOVED by Hollywood, judging by how much praise she receives from prominent figures and how many had ‘I’m With Her’ on their social media on November 8th. Even those who were Bernie supporters (such as Mark Ruffalo) turned to Clinton out of either necessity for the Democrats or belief. Her husband? Former President Bill Clinton, a man who is popular with many due to a generally successful administration. His final approval rating of 66% was the highest from any President FDR onwards (Reagan was second with 63% and Nixon lowest with 24%). Many of his policies were acclaimed as feminist, so a lot of women liked him- most didn’t care about the Lewinsky saga and what followed.

Yet, Clinton has his own accusers. Three of the most prominent ones have regularly criticised the left for ignoring their plight but fighting against others, especially Juanita Broaddrick who has been incredibly outspoken. President Clinton has been accused of the following:

  • Juanita Broaddrick says that Clinton raped her in 1978 when she was working as an orderly. They met at the hospital where she worked, as he was campaigning. Broaddrick was interested in volunteering for the team. A few weeks later, they met for coffee but Clinton requested they have it in her hotel room in order to avoid paparazzi. There, Broaddrick reported that she was violently raped, where she struggled violently and in a way that no one could interpret as consensual.
  • Paula Jones, an Arkansas state employee was escorted to Clinton’s hotel room in 1991. Jones reports she was propositioned and that he exposed himself. Jones reported it three years later and whilst it went to court, it was eventually dismissed by the judge.
  • Kathleen Willey claims she was groped in the Oval Office in 1993. Willey was dismissed, however, as tapes released as part of the Lewinsky investigation stated that it was consensual. These tapes were corroborated by others. When it was pursued by Kenneth Starr, an attorney, it was found that Willey lied multiple times under oath and nothing against Clinton was ever brought forward. Willey, to this deny, argues against this and still actively accuses Clinton of aggressive assault.

Whilst Trump’s accusers were automatically believed (especially after the infamous Billy Bush tape) by many, the Clinton accusers were denounced by the same sort of people.  In October 2016, on popular daytime chat show The View (think an American Loose Women), presenter Joy Behar called the women ‘tramps,’ for which she was forced to apologise. This kind of slut-shaming and internalised misogyny is the very thing wrong with sexual assault in society, with those on all sides of the political divide. In 2017, a nearly twenty year old New York Times op-ed resurfaced. In this op-ed, apparent feminist hero Gloria Steinem (the founder of Ms) magazine wrote things such as ‘The truth is even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of sexual harassment.’ According to Steinem, Clinton was guilty of nothing but a clumsy pass and that he accepted rejection. It was criticised enough in 1998, but 2017 brought it back together.

Why are the women being listened to now? It’s simple-Hollywood can’t hide hypocrisy anymore.

Hollywood needs to make sure to not shout down those who say backwards things, but challenge them instead. For example, when people say things like ‘why do actresses complain about sexual harassment then wear revealing clothes on the red carpet,’ they don’t need to just yell at them. They should reply with facts, like how most women who are sexually assaulted or raped are victims of someone they are at least acquainted with. A 2013 UN survey in Egypt revealed that 99.3% of female respondents say that have been harassed and in that same survey, 75.7% of women said that they were wearing conservative clothing without make-up (still, they could have been wearing a bikini and they still wouldn’t have deserved it). Education, not anger, is needed in this situation.

 

What Hollywood is doing is necessary, even if you disagree with their methods. It is not the only place in the world where abuse exists, but considering how endemic it is, we need victims to understand that they should no longer have to live in fear. Change will come- not today, but it will come. If Hollywood can see the light it often lives in, we will be well on our way to a future where La La Land is not the place of hypocrisy and fear that it has always been. Harvey Weinstein will likely be producing films in ten or so years again, as have Allen and Polanski, but if something good happens, we won’t see a film with his name stamped on again. If Weinstein is the only one to get jail time, it may not be right that others haven’t, but it is one person and that is one person more than it could be.

 

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