Over a dozen women have come forward accusing Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, and multiple women have alleged they were also sexually assaulted by the media mogul. Since the story of Weinstein’s decades long record of sexual harassment was brought to light by the New York Times last week, Weinstein has been fired from the company that bears his name, and four members of his all-male board have resigned.
Like many other alleged abusers of women in powerful positions, Weinstein used nondisclosure agreements, financial payoffs, a powerful legal team, and the threat of ruined careers to keep women quiet. While many women chose to remain silent, Weinstein’s misconduct was apparently an open secret to everyone in the industry.
From aspiring actresses and models to employees of his company, many young women found themselves allegedly targeted by Weinstein. His alleged pattern of coercion was similar in many of the stories these women tell. They report that he would arrange for meetings in his hotel room, and then either present himself half dressed, turn on the shower, or forcefully push for them to give him a massage. What happens after varies from woman to woman, but almost all describe feeling terrified and humiliated.
Many advocates for women are hoping that these public revelations about Weinstein are the latest advancement in the movement to expose the rampant sexual harassment, and at times assault, that women are exposed to in nearly every professional sector. Too often, men with money, power and influence are able to intimidate or threaten women into silence.
When tapes were released of then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, more than a dozen women came forward to accuse the now United States President of sexual misconduct. He responded by publicly denigrating them and threatening crippling lawsuits. And comedian Bill Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted dozens of women with impunity for over three decades through a culture of silence enabled by his celebrity status and access to power.
Weinstein’s firing follows a year that saw a wave of powerful men in media lose their jobs over accusations of rampant sexual harassment. Fox News saw the forced-resignation of Roger Ailes after former news anchor Gretchen Carlson found a way around Fox’s secret arbitration clause, and publicly exposed Ailes as an accused serial sexual harasser and abuser. Many of Fox’s contracts contain fine print that forfeit an employee’s right to have a legal dispute with the company settled in court, instead forcing them into private proceeding that typically result in significantly lower payouts and keep sexual harassment allegations secret.
Nine months later, Fox News superstar Bill O’Reilly was forced out after widespread national condemnation over sexual harassment allegations led to more than 70 companies pulling their advertisements from The O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly has reached settlements with five of his victims totaling $13 million, though many more women have come forward to allege sexual harassment. Soon after that, Fox News co-president Bill Shine resigned amid accusations that he knowingly covered up sexual harassment allegations, enabling a corporate culture that became notorious for allegedly demeaning and abusing female employees.
The Weinstein Company will likely require a cultural overhaul in order to root out what appears to have been a systemic epidemic of abusing women by its top executive. Like 21st Century Fox, consistent sexual harassment allegations put the company in a complex legal situation. Without major changes, the company will have a difficult time arguing that they are complying with Title VII and doing everything possible to create a non-hostile work environment for women, opening them up to serious legal liability.
25 percent of American women report experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Media Resources: New York Times 10/5/17; The New Yorker 10/10/17; Huffington Post 12/6/16; Feminist Majority Foundation 10/26/16, 4/21/17, 5/2/17