In an industry that explores human nature through onscreen stories, it’s the offscreen actions by people with power in the entertainment industry that reveal its dark nature. As Hollywood reckons with decades of abuse at the hands of powerful men, most recently producer Harvey Weinstein, questions of why more women aren’t compelled to speak up remain unanswered.
“Especially in the entertainment industry where pretty faces are easily substitutable, it’s hard for a young woman to step forward against an abuser when they can just disprove her credibility and find someone else,” said Amy Cook, the Stony Brook director of graduate studies in the department of theatre arts.
Cook worked as an actress in Los Angeles, California before making the career switch to theater academia. She recalled how, in her time as an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington, an influential graduate professor in the theatre department would sexually harass women who wanted to work with him. Since he had the power to help launch their careers, the women simply endured his behavior. Cook’s story draws parallels to the stories told by Weinstein’s victims.
Weinstein’s trial by media began on Oct. 5 when The New York Times published an article detailing how Weinstein had been sexually abusing actresses for decades but had reached “at least eight settlements with women.” After the allegations were initially reported by The Times and the New Yorker, dozens of Hollywood actresses, including A-Listers like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, recounted their own experiences with the slimy producer. Now over 40 women have brought forward accusations against Weinstein.
According to a survey by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), between 70 and 90 percent of women who face sexual harassment in the workplace do not report it to their employers or fair employment agencies. The NWLC has stated reasons for this alarming percentage as fear by the women “of losing their jobs or otherwise hurting their careers, fear of not being believed, the belief that nothing can or will be done about the harassment, and embarrassment or shame at being harassed.”
Earlier this year, R Kelly, a multi-platinum R&B singer known for his raunchy lyrics, came under fire when the parents of his victims exposed the manipulative, cult-like sex ring he ran. Recently, one of Kelly’s former girlfriends, Kitti Jones, corroborated these allegations by revealing her own two-year experience of being emotionally manipulated and abused both physically and sexually.
In sexual harassment scenarios, where unwanted advances are the common denominator, women may still feel some sense of responsibility for what happened. In the case of Lucia Evans from the New Yorker’s exposé, who was forced to perform sexual acts on Weinstein, she felt shame for being involved.
“He’s been able to do this for so long to so many women: people give up, and then they feel like it’s their fault,” Evans wrote.
For both Weinstein and Kelly, these sexual abuse allegations never reached any criminal proceedings. Similar to numerous cases of this kind including the allegations against Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, the women have only come forward with the abuse years after the incidents in question.
According to the statutes of limitations for sexual assault, women can report a rape up to 10 years after the incident in California, and in New York, there are no time limitations to report rape. Being two of the most prominent hubs for entertainment, women in the industry in these two states have time to mull over what would happen next should they convert their abuse to charges against the victimizer.
When these cases are against famous public figures, the victims can receive support from sympathizers on the internet, but they can also face serious backlash from fans. This is exactly what happned to Jones when she published her story about R Kelly. But even when the man isn’t famous, he still has the power to label a woman a whore or slut to degrade her name.
In 2013, former Stony Brook Athletic Director Jim Fiore was fired after sexual misconduct was reported against him by women in the department. Among his charges were inappropriate touches and sexual texts he would send female staff members and student athletes. These athletes would also be casually reminded by Fiore that he could take away their scholarships. Despite his inappropriate behavior, Fiore faced no specified disciplinary charges. The remainder of his contract with the school was paid out and he walked away from the university with $800,000.
“I think in the last 20 years we have made strides as a society in listening to these sexual harassment stories,” said Cook. “But there are a lot about these situations still left in the dark.”
It takes a coward to sexually harass a woman, and it takes brave women to report and stand up against the men who do. When people wonder why sexual harassment victims have a hard time coming forward, it is often because there is no environment where coming forward will not cause them harm.