End the Silence on Sexual Assault

by The Cowl Editor on October 19, 2017


Film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Film producer Harvey Weinstein. Photo courtesy of LA Times.

by Bridget Blain ’19

Opinion Staff

The accusations that have been made against Harvey Weinstein by more than a dozen women over the past two weeks are very horrifying and, unfortunately for many, not too surprising. Weinstein’s reputation of sexually harassing and assaulting young women in the entertainment industry has often been referred to by various journalists as “Hollywood’s biggest open secret.”

The article that officially broke the news of Weinstein’s history with women, published by The New York Times on Oct. 5, is even titled, “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers For Decades.”

Well-known, A-list celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, and Angelina Jolie have come forward with their own disturbing experiences with Weinstein, showing that no woman in the industry was safe from Weinstein.

It is clear that while many people knew what was happening to these young women, Weinstein’s power in entertainment combined with the prevalence of victim blaming prevented dozens of women from coming forward until years later.

With every new allegation that arises, it becomes clearer just how severely Weinstein was abusing his status. It is obvious why none of these women came forward at the time, as Weinstein was in control of their careers and reputations.

What is also disturbing is the many men in Hollywood who knew what was happening to these women,  but remained silent, such as Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. who held a recording of his past assaults. Weinstein’s influence in the entertainment industry created a culture of silence, both in the women who had these awful experiences with Weinstein and in the men who knew about them.

Weinstein knew the power he had over the careers of these women and abused it as much as he could. If these are the stories and allegations that are just being brought forward now, it is worrisome to think about what else, or who else, has been silenced over the years.

The culture of silence surrounding sexual assault is not only a problem in the entertainment industry, but on college campuses as well. Nearly 70 percent of sexual assaults that happen on college campuses are not reported and the recent events surrounding Weinstein clearly show why. For example, plenty of actors and others in the entertainment industry have come forward in support of Weinstein, suggesting that the claims made by these actresses are lies.

It makes sense that college students who want to come forward with similar experiences are afraid of not being believed.

Watching the details of Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults unfold has provided a clear example of why survivors of sexual assault do not immediately come forward. Abusers such as Weinstein often use their power to silence those around them.

The responsibility of telling the truth should not be placed solely on survivors of sexual assault. Those who know what has happened or continues to happen, such as Weinstein’s assistants or male actors who knew what was happening to their female co-workers, also have a responsibility to break the silence.

More often than not, college students are just as apprehensive about coming forward as the actresses assaulted by Weinstein were.

We as a society need to learn better ways to support those who want to come forward with their experiences and also how to prevent abusers from using their power to silence everyone around them. Looking at the case of Weinstein is a good a place to start.