SAU Buzz

Sexual Assault: From Hollywood to universities

by Mary Roche
Posted on Nov 02, 2017

In recent news, nearly 100 women have accused film mogul Harvey Weinstein of some form of sexual assault. His “womanizing” was seen as an open secret; unsuspecting actresses would go for meetings and find Harvey in a bathrobe, asking for a massage or more. This has traumatized women from A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Lupita Nyong’o to unnamed assistants and one woman who no longer acts because of Weinstein’s actions.

Women on Facebook and Twitter expressed that they had experienced sexual assault with the hashtag #MeToo. This tag crossed barriers of class, sexuality and age, showing just how pervasive sexual harassment is in our society.

Abuse of nearly every kind is no surprise to most women, and this is no less true in Hollywood. Johnny Depp was divorced because he physically abused his wife. Woody Allen, when asked about Weinstein, said he hoped this incident wouldn’t turn into a “witch hunt.” Allen has been accused of sexual abuse multiple times. Many other powerful men have been accused of sexual assault, including Casey Affleck, Bill O’Reilly, George H.W. Bush and our current president.

Sexual assault is an epidemic, especially in this country, where we can elect a president who grabs women without their consent. Why did it take decades for people to listen and start freezing Weinstein out of business? Why does our society allow abusive men to thrive when the women they have assaulted are attacked by the media and thrust out of the spotlight? How do we fix these problems? It starts with listening.

“Many women for many years, and women from marginalized communities,” Dr. Katy Strzepek, head of women and gender studies, said, “African-American women, people who are transgender, have been saying, ‘Me too,’ for a long time and people just haven’t been listening.”

Women, men and people from marginalized communities, including race and gender, have reported sexual assault and harassment for decades, but they are not always treated with respect.

“A lot of violence-based campaigns are based around violence against women,” Strzepek said. “So if someone doesn't fit into the binary of what society sees a woman to be, they might be afraid to report. Sadly we know that people who are trans experience heightened violence, because society doesn’t accept people who don’t fit into a traditional gender.”

People in power must not make excuses, and must listen to survivors of any kind of sexual harassment. On our campus, this involves leaders across discipline.

“Our dean of students Tim Phillips is a strong advocate for prevention,” Strzepek said

“Right now we’re really trying to educate men and male leaders on campus. That has been really great.”

Sexualized violence exists across cultures, and all of us need to listen to survivors. Two to eight percent of rape accusations are false. To clarify, this means at least 92 percent of accusations are true. Dr. Strzepek said there are some things we need to focus on.

“It’s about educating our population and also measuring results and thinking about do people feel comfortable reporting?” she said. “Is our justice system fair? Do we give people access to good resources?”

We need to teach people how to prevent sexual assault: both as bystanders and sexually active individuals. A good rule of thumb?

“There needs to be consent every time, every step of the way,” Strzepek said. “You can change the law, but that doesn’t necessarily change the culture. We need more people to be reflexive and challenge cultural norms that allow violence.”