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Let’s Talk About Sex(ual Assualt)

Sexual assault claims surge throughout the media since the Weinstein case. Photo: Incirlik Air Base

Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Larry Nassar and John Besh. What do these names have in common? Plastered across every major media outlet, these accomplished (now disgraced) figures embody a growing crusade against perpetrators of sexual assault.

Within the last month, the #MeToo campaign has flooded social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Twitter. Beginning with the exposure of powerful Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein, celebrities and citizens alike have come forward with stories of sexual assault, creating what Woody Allen has dubbed a “witch hunt atmosphere.”

However, this epidemic is not limited to the film industry. Sexual assault remains a pervasive problem from college campuses to all kinds of work environments. While the recent exposure of predatory Hollywood moguls has helped shed light on the extent of the issue, it has also brought forth a disturbing reality: for decades, thousands of victims have chosen silence over help. Why?

On Oct. 5, New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed allegations that grew the case against Harvey Weinstein. Notable Hollywood figures like Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow went on record for the Times, giving the story of Weinstein as perpetrator strong credibility and attracting public interest. Little did they know the impact that their revelations would have. Since the New York Times story, more than 40 women have gone public, accusing Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault.

In Brit Marling’s piece in The Atlantic magazine, “Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent,” Marling describes women’s trafficking and prostitution in Hollywood as “a commodity with an endless supply and endless demand.” The intimate article follows Marling’s experience in the film industry, detailing the demoralizing nature of auditioning for “Bikini Babe 2” and “Blonde 4.” In one particular audition, Marling recounts looking around at the group of women trying out and noticing that “we had all internalized on some level the idea that if we were going to be cast, we’d better sell what was desired – not our artistry, not our imaginations – but our bodies.”

Years later, the young actress secured a private meeting with Harvey Weinstein. To her surprise, Weinstein’s female assistant moved the meeting to his private suite last minute, claiming that Weinstein was a “busy man.” Once in the room, Weinstein’s assistant and body guard left the two alone. Within minutes, the director asked Marling if she wanted any champagne followed by a proposal to shower with him. 

Accusations made against James Toback evoke a similar image – women being promised screen time in exchange for sexual favors or moral embarrassment. Aspiring actresses recalled running into the director throughout New York City in public places and feeling an uncomfortable fixation with Toback’s mannerisms. Encounters would begin with Toback flaunting Oscar nominations and sexual encounters with Hollywood’s elite as a transition towards uncomfortable, personal questions. The Los Angeles Times collected 38 stories with disturbingly similar details: interrogation followed by dry humping, forced undressing, etc. Actress Adrienne LaValley claims that “the way [Toback] presented it, it was like, ‘this is how things are done.'”

Many of these women quit acting afterwards.

Sadly, sexual assault followed by silence is the way things are done. Thanks to the #MeToo campaign, the prevalence of sexual assault is finally being recognized. More than 20 men in positions of power have been accused of sexual harassment or assault this month alone. On Oct. 18, McKayla Maroney addressed her Twitter followers with a shocking #MeToo confession. The Olympic silver medalist cited her USA team doctor Larry Nassar as the perpetrator of her abuse, claiming he began sexually molesting her at the age of 13. It turns out that Nassar has been sued by more than 125 women and girls alleging abuse. “Silence has given the wrong people power for too long,” she wrote in a statement inspired by the #MeToo campaign. “And it’s time to take our power back.”

An ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 54% of women experience some form of male harassment, 25% of which is by men who hold power over women’s careers. An alarming 95% of women report that their perpetrators went unpunished. Yet in the eyes of the government, punishment is exactly what is eroding the system.

In a study titled “Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females (1995-2013),” Bureau of Justice Statistics Intern Sofi Sinozich found that college-age women were significantly more likely to be assaulted than non-college age women. Despite a growing rape culture on college campuses, the government has chosen to loosen standards for investigating sexual assualt, favoring the alleged perpetrators.

Under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ guidance, Obama-era policies such as requiring colleges to use the lowest standard of evidence and limiting investigations to a 60-day time frame have been rescinded. In their place, the Secretary of Education has crafted a system that undermines victims by forcing more definitive evidence and elongating the acceptable time frame of investigations. DeVos believes that the current system readily sides with the victim. Nevertheless, these rigid standards perpetuate silence among victims and allow universities to neglect open cases. Yet in DeVos’ mind, “if everything is harassment, nothing is.”

The facts are there. Sexual assault is haunting society. But one thing that the facts and figures cannot answer is why.

Author Margaret Atwood said, “men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Aside from biological differences, the alluring aspect of sexual assault is power. This power dynamic alludes to an Alpha mentality. Men are expected to be brash, strong and dominant. Sexual assault is a way for them to feel as if they’ve retained their power. In his speeches, educator Jackson Katz pinpoints a deadly side effect of this power: entitlement. Men in powerful positions feel entitled to objectify and mistreat women. Directors. Doctors. Athletes. What do they all have in common?

For decades, hundreds of thousands of victims have chosen to stay silent. Women have tightened their lips and glanced to the side with a strong ‘Pace Face’ and a mounting anxiety. Though their efforts are commendable, victims of harassment and assault should not have to struggle alone. Men, as well as women, are responsible for changing the script. Every story that has emerged within the last few weeks was not published in vain. There is a purpose.

The concept seems so painfully simple. Men are raping women. Men are raping men. Rather than continuing to be a bystander, act now for your mother, aunt, brother or friend. Speak for those who have been forced into silence. Give their stories a happy ending.