RED ZONE: ‘Weinstein effect’ sparks national reckoning against sexual assault and harassment

In early October, Hollywood executive producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault by a number of women. Since then, over 20 men — politicians, actors and other public figures — have also been accused of various forms of sexual misconduct, therein creating what some are calling the “Weinstein effect.”

It’s not just women that have spoken out; several men have come forward with stories of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by Kevin Spacey, the now former “House of Cards” actor.

Public responses: disputes against allegations and affirmations

For weeks, it has been a daily occurrence for new cases to emerge, and the responses from the accused men have varied.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, film director and writer James Toback, said he had never met the women who accused him of sexual harassment. If he did, it “was for five minutes and have no recollection.”

E! News senior correspondent Ken Baker had allegedly sent vulgar text messages, made disturbing comments and displayed unwanted behavior to former E! employees. He made a statement saying, “I am very disturbed by these anonymous allegations, which make my heart ache. I take them very seriously. I care deeply for people’s feelings and sincerely live in a way that treats people with dignity and respect.”

Melanie Kohler, a former marketing executive, posted on Facebook saying that Brett Ratner, film producer and director, had raped her about 12 years ago. Ratner disputed these allegations and took action to sue Kohler for defamation.

Louis C.K., comedian, issued a statement in response to women’s accusations of his sexual misconduct over the years, particularly in private. Not only did he admit that the stories were true, but he also acknowledged that the “power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

Roy Moore is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama and has been accused of sexual misconduct with women who were 18 or younger while he was in his 30s. Officials from both Democratic and Republican organizations have called for Moore to drop out of the race, yet he insists that the allegations are an attempt to undermine him.

Weinstein effect may bring cultural shift

Allegations of sexual assault and harassment by high-profile men are not new.

Bill Cosby, comedian and actor, was accused of philandering and sexual assault by dozens of women. The incidents dated as far back as 50 years ago and his case, which charged him with three counts of assault against Andrea Constand, ended in a mistrial earlier this June.

Ian Hartman, assistant professor of history, says that while these kinds of allegations have occurred in the past, society quickly forgot about it when it was over.

“There have been these moments where a famous person is facing allegations of sexual assault or rape or something else — go back to Bill Clinton for that matter,” Hartman said. “The question becomes: What is our memory going to be? Is this going to be a brief little chapter in which people move on and forget about things and we go back to the way it was?”

However, he sees this Weinstein effect as a unique kind of reckoning due to the magnitude and nature of these cases.

“The way that these allegations and as many as there are, I think that this time might be different,” Hartman said.

Annie Derthick is a former UAA student who studied clinical community psychology. She sees the Weinstein effect as “something big” that feels culturally important.

There has been a tacit approval of predatory behavior in politics and the entertainment industry, Derthick said, but hopefully that will change.

“The culture around talking about sexual assault is shifting. We’re experiencing that cultural earthquake right now,” Derthick said. “I hope that when this is all settled, there is a new normal culture where we openly talk about sexual assault.”

Even if there is going to be a notable change following the ripple effect of allegations, Keeley Olson, executive director of Standing Together Against Rape, believes there will still be more work to be done.

“While we might be seeing a bit of a shift, there’s still a long, long way to go. As you can see, every day, there are more allegations that are coming forward,” Olson said.

There’s strength in numbers in the face of criticism

 

There is a lot of speculation surrounding the frequency of these allegations and the numbers at which they are coming in.

Olson pointed out that survivors see their own experience in others’ and this could motivate them to speak up and share their story.

“It makes people feel safer to come forward when they’re not the first one or only one,” Olson said. “As they’re seeing other people’s experience with coming forward and being believed, then they, too, feel empowered.”

Still, not everyone has been supportive of those who have made accusations. Donna Karan, fashion designer, responded to the reports made against Weinstein while on the red carpet at the CineFashion Film Awards in October.

“It’s not Harvey Weinstein. You look at everything all over the world today, you know, and how women are dressing and what they’re asking by just presenting themselves the way they do,” Karan said. “What are they asking for? Trouble.”

Karan later released a statement and apology saying that she believes “sexual harassment is NOT acceptable,” but Derthick sees the fashion designer’s initial comments as part of the criticism that women and men face when coming forward.

“To tell your story on a global stage — there’s a lot of vulnerability attached to that and it opens you up to criticism,” Derthick said.

 

The growing list of high-profile men being accused of sexual assault and harassment has left behind a series of ramifications that have rendered some jobless.

Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company and dismissed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Roy Price, head of Amazon Studios, and Michael Oreskes, head of news at NPR and a former New York Times editor, resigned from their positions.

Spacey was suspended from “House of Cards” as well as removed from other projects.

Andrew Kreisberg, executive producer of CW’s “Arrow,” “Supergirl” and “The Flash” was suspended by Warner Bros. TV Group.

Al Franken, U.S. senator from Minnesota, has willingly called for an ethics investigation after a photo surfaced of Franken groping a woman while she was asleep.

A reckoning

 

Hartman says that there is a “real deep strain of sexism and patriarchy” in many cultures and this phenomenon, which he and others throughout the nation have called a reckoning, might challenge that.

“I think we’re maybe reaching a point here that there’s becoming less and less tolerance for that type of behavior, and that’s a good thing,” Hartman said.

Derthick wants to know what may become of these allegations in the future.

“It’ll be interesting to revisit this in six months or a year or five years and identify this as a moment in time that something changed,” Derthick said.

For Olson, this will hopefully also be a lesson to those who are watching.

“[I hope] that people who are misusing that power and causing harm — that they are running scared now and that those who are coming up to power, they recognize the mistakes that those before them have made,” Olson said.

The New York Times, along with other news organizations, have published and are regularly updating an extensive list and timeline of men accused of sexual misconduct.