Earlier this month, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times reported upon the now-notorious allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, film producer and co-founder of Miramax and The Weinstein Company. The article recounted the numerous accusations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape against Weinstein over roughly 30 years and included interviews with eight women to whom he had paid settlements. A report by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker added to these claims with accusations that Weinstein had raped three women and sexually harassed or assaulted 13 more. Following the publication of these articles, dozens of women, including many high-profile actresses and Weinstein Company employees, came forward with their own stories about sexual abuse at the hands of Weinstein.
That this type of conduct occurred so frequently over such a long period is enormously disturbing, even more so considering that his place among the wealthy and powerful allowed him to elude consequences for decades. TMZ recently obtained a copy of Weinstein’s contract with The Weinstein Company, and discovered a stipulation that, for every time Weinstein “treated someone improperly in violation of the company’s Code of Conduct,” his only consequence would be a cash penalty, “$250,000 for the first such instance” with an increase of $250,000 for every subsequent penalty but capping at $1,000,000. Though the language is very technical, it suggests that Weinstein had a mechanism built into his employment contract that allowed him to continue his predatory behavior so long as he was able to reimburse The Weinstein Company for any legal expenses they might have incurred as a result. Earlier this week, screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, who worked with Harvey Weinstein at Miramax from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, publicly confirmed that everyone at Miramax “knew about [Harvey Weinstein’s] hunger; his fervor; his appetite.”
We at The New Paltz Oracle believe this story is emblematic of a larger problem of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, and the justice that victims are ultimately denied in protecting those with more power. A study published by Trade Unions College, in association with Everyday Sexism Project, revealed that over half of the women sampled “experienced some form of sexual harassment,” including sexual comments said either about them or about other women, sexual jokes, and unwanted touching; 20 percent of the women polled reported having “experienced unwanted sexual advances.” A majority of the perpetrators were men, and around 20 percent of those men were in a position of authority over the women in question. Despite the pervasiveness of workplace harassment, the same study revealed that 80 percent of the women polled “did not report the sexual harassment to their employer.”
An article published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology examined much of the contemporary academic literature on sexual harassment, which showed that “women tend to report more adverse effects after experiencing harassing situations than men,” including “negative mood, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, […] work turnover intentions, long-term anxiety, and or burnout.” As with sexual harassment and assault in any other location, sexual misconduct in the workplace is psychologically damaging, creating an unsafe environment through power dynamics established on fear.
The New York State Department of Health created Stop Sexual Violence, a training “toolkit” designed to increase bystander intervention in instances of sexual violence. Bystander intervention is more likely to occur when the bystander “has attitudes and beliefs that oppose sexual violence,” believes the social norm to be intervention in the event of sexual violence, and possesses the ability and intention to intervene. New York State already places requirements on employers to develop sexual harassment policies and trainings for employees, but the federal government makes no such demands and there’s little consistency in regulations across states; bystander intervention training, if mandated and provided on a larger scale, is one such way of ensuring a safer work environment.
However, none of these regulations, policies or trainings will matter if hierarchies continue to protect certain members from facing consequences for their actions. Fox News, for example, has a long history of fostering an unsafe environment for women, allowing powerful men like Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly to prey on female employees. Amazon continued to do business with The Weinstein Company even after actress Asia Argento told Amazon Studios Chief Roy Price that Weinstein had raped her. In the wake of the recent explosion of accusations against Weinstein, Amazon has since ended their relationship with The Weinstein Company; meanwhile, Roy Price was suspended last week for allegations that he’d sexually harassed a female producer at Amazon Studios, and it was revealed earlier this week that he had harassment complaints filed against him by women as far back as 2015.
There is also a broader cultural issue at play here, one that fuels the dismissal of female victims and the lionization of rapists. As much as Weinstein was enabled by fellow wealthy men, it is not only wealthy men who are enablers, as proven by the fact that two of this nation’s last four Presidents (our current included) had been accused of sexual assault prior to their election, with Bill Clinton eventually having been impeached following sexual misconduct and Donald Trump having casually bragged about a number of predatory behaviors.
We cannot pretend that this is simply a wealth issue, or a conservative issue, or a liberal one. Sexual assault is inexcusable regardless of class status or political affiliation. We at The New Paltz Oracle believe that Weinstein is one of many, many men who have exercised and continue to exercise their authority to abuse women. Weinstein has since been let go from his company, though he will not be going to prison, instead attending a sex addiction rehab in Europe. When the culture changes, so too will the consequences. It’s up to all of us—mostly and especially men—to eschew in those changes by taking rape accusations seriously, challenging sexually predatory behaviors, and working to support regulations that would further develop the safe working environments to which women are entitled.