The truly shocking thing about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged predatory conduct isn’t merely that he harassed, assaulted and preyed on so many young women for so long. It’s not that he abused his position by allegedly forcing them into silence: threatening their careers if they spoke out, paying them to keep quiet.
The truly shocking fact is that it took until the year 2017 for a group of his victims to be heard and to be believed. It is astonishing, and abysmal, given reports of Weinstein’s deplorable penchant for violating women date back more than twenty years.
The producer has been subject to various police investigations and has reportedly reached financial settlements with at least eight different women, one as early as 1997. As of last week, 30 women have accused him of assault and three have accused him of rape. It was an “open secret”.
And yet, until last week, Weinstein continued on in his career unencumbered by any adverse consequences. His power has only grown over time and has remained his protection: Weinstein has been free to wield his very real power over his selected victims for decades without any fear of retribution.
Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cara Delavigne and Angelina Jolie are among those women who were powerless compared to Weinstein when he reportedly subjected them to lewd and unwanted advances.
The salt in the ghastly wound of being sexually assaulted, for too many violated women, is not being believed afterwards, and when the perpetrator is powerful it’s worse still. It means speaking out could result in disaster. In losing your career. Being labelled a liar. Landing yourself in court. Being cross-examined. Facing financial ruin.
In the days after the reports of Weinstein’s conduct emerged there were people willing to cast doubt over the women who spoke out. To side with Weinstein. To couch his conduct as a mere misunderstanding of sorts. (On more than 30 separate occasions?)
Galling is an understatement.
Hollywood might be a different world but the likes of Harvey Weinstein are not exclusive to the Los Angeles bubble. Sexual harassment and assault remain rife in too many workplaces, in too many countries, including here.
One in four Australian women has been sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace and just one in five of those formally reported their experience.
According to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins many women don’t report assault because they fear the impact it could have on their career, and as she writes, they are right:
“Our research shows that these fears about the negative consequences of reporting sexual harassment at work are very much grounded in reality. Nearly one third of people who made a formal complaint about workplace sexual harassment said that they suffered significant consequences as a result, such as being labelled a trouble maker, being ostracised, victimised or ignored by colleagues.”
In America, it’s estimated that 75% of people who complain about sexual harassment face retaliation for reporting it.
The fact it’s impossible to name a single woman who has been rewarded or lauded for calling out the criminal conduct of a powerful man is telling. It is a path with few perks.
The women who have called out Weinstein deserve our trust and deserve to be believed.
If you or someone you know needs help or advice, contact Respect on 1800 737 732.