Some time ago, while I was going through my Instagram feed, I came across a photo of Kate Beckinsale, an actress whose movies I like. The photo looked old and reminded me of a movie I loved where she played the main character. I started reading the photo description - and it was about Harvey Weinstein.
It was posted only a few days after he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. She described how relieved she was that he was now behind bars, as she had bad memories of him. She said that while she wasn’t one of the survivors of Weinstein's sexual assaults, he had psychologically pressured and bullied her at the time the Instagram photo was taken. I started reading the comments underneath, expecting unilateral support for her. However, what I read was terrifying. It became clear why women find it difficult to come forward publicly with allegations of sexual abuse.
There are over 16000 comments currently underneath the said photo and I went through all of them (for those who are wondering, yes, I have a life) to see if there were only a few horrendous comments but unfortunately, it was not the case. There were a few different types of thoughts people expressed in the comments, and I would like to talk about why some of these thoughts are problematic.
The thought patterns I kept seeing involved the following logic: People accusing this actress for smiling when the photo was taken and question why she did not look upset despite having had a bad encounter with him. People accusing women in Hollywood of doing anything to become famous – it’s their own fault. They gave him this power by continuing to work with him. People accusing of only speaking out now that he’s convicted and not earlier. Let me talk about why what people said does not apply specifically in this situation and then talk about the main problems in this way of thinking.
In her post, Kate talked about her encounter with him and she specifically said that it didn’t include any kind of sexual aggression. It was in the bullying and psychological pressure part of the inappropriate behaviour in the workplace spectrum. So, if this is a one-time occurrence, one can easily write this off as their superior in the workplace having a bad day and taking this out on them. This, of course, does not make such behaviour ok at all. However, it makes me wonder whether people writing her off for smiling in the picture would leave their jobs from one instant to another if they were in the same situation. In many countries and cultures this kind of behaviour, bullying in the workplace, is not even considered a crime, or even an issue. The reason she shared this story was to also point out bullying in workplace can happen and it is also a toxic behaviour. She mentioned in a reply to one of the comments that she shared this in the hopes of calling attention to this issue so we can start making our workplaces safer with regards to different abusive behaviour. Apart from that, however, we need to talk about the real issue here: the blatant sexism expressed towards Beckinsale.
The most important thing everyone needs to understand about Weinstein is that he was nearly untouchable. What with all the news pieces about him you might have missed this, but years ago, police wiretapped a model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who was harassed by Weinstein and he confessed it on tape. However, the police didn’t arrest him. Furthermore, when women went to the studio executives with their experiences, they refused to fire him. Other women would approach journalists and news networks, asking them to run their story - they turned a deaf ear on them. If the police, high-rank studio executives, news networks didn’t do anything to stop him, what do you expect victims of his would have been able to do? They tried to speak out – but hardly anyone listened.
Another thing everyone needs to understand is that he was extremely powerful in Hollywood. If someone tried to badmouth him, he would run smear campaigns against these people, making sure they never worked in the industry again. He made sure those stories never saw the light of day. Also, it is known from testimonials of some survivors that he threatened them or made them sign non-disclosure agreements so that he could guarantee that he wouldn’t be implicated.
Finally, after years and years of journalists digging and survivors speaking out against him, all the atrocities he committed started coming to light. Of course, all the years of work from equal rights movements that changed the climate for this type of behaviour – one of many reasons it is crucial to fight for our rights until we reach a full equality in every part of the society.
There is, of course, the psychological part of this story one needs to address. Survivors of sexual abuse have higher rates of PTSD than combat soldiers , and this trauma makes it difficult or even impossible to speak out about their abuse or even accept that it has happened. What is more, is there is a very imbalanced power dynamic between perpetrator and victim in normal circumstances. Victims are scared to speak out and come forward. When the perpetrator is a wealthy and powerful man and also your boss, this power imbalance is even more exaggerated.
I saw some people say that they would have gone to the police even if they had been threatened, if they had been in a situation like this. But we don’t all react the same way when it comes to life and death, and no-one can talk easily about a situation like this if they haven’t been through it themselves.. Survivors often face extreme difficulty in getting justice with less than 1% of reported rapes resulting in conviction . Many survivors report being retraumatised by a police and judicial system rife with embedded misogyny and a lack of support and counselling services in place. Therefore, it is no wonder that many survivors are cautious about reporting sexual assaults through official channels.
To all the comment writers who asked her why she didn’t come forward at the time and why she continued to work for him , I have one question in return: why did Harvey Weinstein become a serial rapist who used his power to abuse, harass, assault, threaten and silence women? He could have become a human being who respected people who worked for him and he could have treated them in a humane way. Why are we asking the victims to change their behaviour instead of the perpetrators? If we start stop blaming the victims by listening to them and open our arms to them with support, then maybe they can come forward more easily.. Our first reaction as a society should not be why the victim did not talk; it should be why the perpetrator committed such atrocious acts.