‘‘You’re expecting too much from people,” my friend Lisa explained to me. “We’re mere animals.” I had been pacing the sidewalk rehearsing the details of the Harvey Weinstein story—at press time, following investigative reports in the New York Times and the New Yorker, more than 50 women have alleged he sexually harassed, abused and in some cases raped them over the three decades that Weinstein topped Hollywood’s ruling class. It was evidently an open secret that he preyed on assistants and aspiring actresses; several men in his orbit have since come forth to admit they’d heard about Weinstein’s actions from women he allegedly victimized. Yet these fellas, apparently believing that relationship status is a factor in sexual harassment, played the boyfriend card and figured Weinstein would stop. Never mind the unknown, unsuspecting women likely to be hurt by an unchastened Weinstein: Self-policing would set things right, or right enough for these guys.
In a New York Times interview, Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker most closely associated with Weinstein, confessed with breathtaking narcissism that he figured once Weinstein realized actress Mira Sorvino was Tarantino’s new girlfriend, he would stop groping her. (A tone deaf Tarantino also expressed hope that folks would keep watching his movies even though we now know he ignored rumors of Weinstein’s continued sexual assaults in the post-Sorvino years.)
What is with these people?! I cursed on the street. Grown men old enough to remember Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas convince themselves the victim’s sex appeal rather than the predator’s power is at the root of the abuse? That’s just one more scent in the Blame the Victim perfume collection. It stinks!
But Lisa’s point was that many people, facing a hard truth and the possibility of confrontation or inconvenience, will take the easy way out.
Which is where our democratic system of laws and regulations is supposed to come in—to protect everybody and ensure your body is respected whether you’re an Oscar-winner’s GF or not. But what happens when those policies fall short, giving more comfort to the perpetrator than the victim?
With sexual assault, the most obvious effect is under-reporting. Lacking trust in the system to uphold their rights above the abuser’s, victims hold back. That can leave their own trauma unresolved and increases the likelihood the perpetrator will strike again. Examples of this abound. Here’s but one: Last year the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a remarkable investigation into the legal gaps that leave patients vulnerable to sexually abusive doctors, including in Virginia, which earned a grade of C. Using public data to size up the legal situation state by state, the AJC reporters gave the state medical board a score of 64 out of 100.
Virginia ranked particularly poorly in the areas of criminalization and legal notification: The medical board is not required to report allegations of criminal conduct to law enforcement, nor has Virginia criminalized sexual misconduct involving doctors and patients. Knowing that a physician faces little lasting consequence if found guilty of a sex crime (and the evidentiary standard is uncommonly high in Virginia), a patient would think twice about enduring the ordeal of reporting an incident. Indeed, the Journal-Constitution series highlights a Virginia doctor whose license was reinstated three times though he was known to the state medical board and legal authorities as a serial sexual assaulter. Yuck.
Yes, Virginia, Harvey Weinstein is a beast. And effectively he didn’t act alone. When it comes to enabling sexual predators, it’s high time more of us rise above and stop acting like mere animals.
Yes, Virginia is a monthly opinion column.