Harvey Weinstein, Abusers, and the Price of Silence
Sexual predators prey on the powerless in order to exert control, and use sex as a means to do so because the connections between sex and power are palpable. Weinstein is no anomaly.
[TW — This essay contains discussion of sexual violence]
Harvey Weinstein has fled to Europe. Supposedly, he now seeks treatment for sex addiction—if you can believe this excuse. This sudden retreat conveniently comes after a growing number of women have come forward about their experiences of sexual violence with the seasoned film producer. From forcing a reporter to watch him masturbate, to groping people’s breasts, to aggressive propositioning, to rape. The accusations against him are rife with disturbing, heinous, and—unfortunately—familiar testimonies of sexual harassment and assault.
Sexual predators prey on the powerless in order to exert control, and use sex as a means to do so because the connections between sex and power are palpable. Weinstein is no anomaly. Men in power using their dominant positions to intentionally and systematically sexually harass and assault people is an old song, and I’m tired of hearing it.
We went through this last month following the death of Hugh Hefner, the irreverent pimp of the Playboy empire, and again with Andy Signore, the boisterous creator of Screen Junkies. Just as we have gone through this with Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby, and Jared Leto, and Louis CK and many, many others—to varying degrees. The horrors of the casting couch and the spaces akin to it are well-known in Hollywood and beyond.
The pattern is undeniable, and sickening. Of course Donald Trump would say that he is not surprised about the accusations against Harvey Weinstein. And it follows that Weinstein would brag about not needing to drug women to rape them like Bill Cosby. And it’s decidedly unsurprising that Hugh Hefner did nothing to address Bill Cosby’s atrocious behavior at the Playboy Mansion. And it’s fitting that Jared Leto has been cast to play Hugh Hefner in an upcoming biopic. This would all be laughable if it weren’t so damn infuriating.
People around Weinstein knew about his penchant for sexual misconduct. It’s incredibly likely that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck knew. Brad Pitt knew. Jane Fonda expressed her regret about not speaking up about Weinstein’s behavior. The same is true of Trump, Cosby, Leto, Hefner, Signore, CK, and others. The people around sexual predators know about their predatory behavior, and these predators bank on the silence of their confidante and enablers. That is how they are able to continue their abuse.
Weinstein even created an atmosphere in which he could have free reign to commit assaults, as his contract with The Weinstein Company includes a clause which states that he can be repeatedly sued for “treat[ing] someone improperly in violation of the company’s Code of Conduct” without risk of termination, provided that he pays “liquidated damages of $250,000 for the first such instance, $500,000 for the second such instance, $750,000 for the third such instance, and $1,000,000 for each additional instance.” Weinstein has been fired by The Weinstein Company, but according to this contract, he has recourse to petition for the right to return to his former position. His machinations are insidious.
This kind of culture that allows for sexual predators to flourish is not only dangerous to non men. It means that men who are victims of sexual harassment and assault are also often too intimidated and embarrassed to report abuse that they experience from other men. Terry Crews came forward to speak about his own experience with sexual misconduct at the hands of a Hollywood executive, a man who simply laughed and walked away after shamelessly groping Crews’ genitals at an event. Crews also commented on how his size and his Blackness both factored into his decision not to react, as he was understandably worried that law enforcement might immediately assume that a large Black man was the aggressor.
Men in power behave this way regularly, and the accounts that we are reading and hearing from those who were accosted by these celebrity men are representative of the kind of harassment that people endure daily, especially women. I empathize with everyone who was assaulted by these men, because I have been in that same terrifying position, having experienced sexual harassment from an employer in the past.
He propositioned me, on multiple occasions, and when I declined to participate in his marital infidelity, he became angry. I never told anyone. I went on working in a toxic environment, never speaking up about his inappropriate behavior because he had the power to snatch away my livelihood at any moment and possibly prevent me from securing employment in the future.
It’s a terrible feeling. I’ve been consumed with guilt about it, knowing that he has likely done the same to others and that my silence has made me complicit. It still hurts, and I hate myself for it. The price of silence is that people will continue to get exploited and traumatized by men who are addicted to abusing their power and use other people’s bodies as fodder for their revolting compulsions.