Another week, another incredibly powerful man outed as a serial sexual predator.
That’s what I thought last Thursday when The New York Times published an investigative story alleging that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed and assaulted women for years.
As I contemplated how to cover the revelations, I felt angry and exhausted. Covering gender for Mashable over the past three years has meant reporting on sexual assault accusations against scores of men: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Josh Duggar, and yes, President Donald Trump.
I’ve interviewed sexual assault survivors and written about what it’s like to be raped and tell someone, only to discover they don’t believe you. I’ve explained why people who’ve been sexually assaulted don’t want to share their stories with reporters and described the psychology of why people often side with the accused when a woman summons the courage to go public. There’s been praise for men who confront rape as real and devastating and criticism for those who don’t get it right when talking about the subject.
Now as both The New Yorker and The New York Times follow up Thursday’s revelations with horrifying details about new allegations, including accounts from Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Italian actress and director Asia Argento, exhaustion is turning into fresh rage.
paralyzing to think about how many more harvey weinstein stories there are out there. it just never ends.
— yohana desta (@YohanaDesta) October 10, 2017
The truth is that no matter how hard any journalist tries to share context about predatory behavior and insight about what it’s like to be a survivor, there’s an insurmountable and cruel reality: The culture of abuse and misogyny that enables men like Weinstein continues to thrive because people and institutions who could stop the behavior fail women time and again. And they’ll keep destroying women’s lives (and the lives of male survivors) unless something fundamental changes.
That change isn’t as elusive or as impossible as you may think. It’s actually quite simple. Once a woman steps forward to report abusive or predatory behavior, believe her. If multiple women share a similar story, see that as corroboration first, not a conspiracy.
Once a woman steps forward to report abusive or predatory behavior, believe her.
Here’s another way to think about it: When a victim of crime says she was robbed or physically attacked, our first instinct is to believe her account and ask for evidence later. We often aren’t, however, prepared to treat survivors of sexual harassment and assault similarly because that requires acknowledging ordinary or even extraordinary men (brothers, fathers, sons, community leaders) are capable of heinous acts. I can assure you based on my own reporting that they indeed are.
After believing and researching a woman’s accusation, the most important thing you can do is act to stop the behavior — and no, that doesn’t include payouts and non-disclosure agreements to silence victims. Stern warnings from HR typically don’t cut it, either.
When there’s enough credible evidence to suggest a man serially harasses, bullies, or assaults women, remove him from power. If you work in law enforcement, build a case against him and charge him with a crime if the behavior violates the law. Nothing short of full accountability will end the epidemic of abuse that poisons so much of the world for women.
So, if y’all think your industry is immune from intimidation, assault, and sexual harassment, think again. This isn’t just Hollywood.
— Miriam Kramer (@mirikramer) October 10, 2017
Too often workplace leadership makes disturbing calculations about whether they can afford to fire or disciplined the accused. To them, the risks seem legitimate. There’s the chance a scandal might become public and reflect poorly on the company. There’s the lurking fear that the accusations might be based on misunderstanding or hypersensitivity. And then there’s self-interest and ego. The accused might be useful to someone’s rise to power or their firm grasp on existing power, and no one likes to admit they hired or empowered a predator.
But if it’s not already clear from the financial and cultural fallout over coverups at The Weinstein Company, Fox News, and Uber, there is no calculation in which you can hide or excuse the bad behavior of abusive men in the workplace and still come out a winner.
If it doesn’t ultimately cost you in headlines or lawsuits, it will cost you in less perceptible ways. The whisper networks that women use to warn each other about predators will start focusing on how leadership can’t be trusted. Morale and productivity will plummet for some. You’ll lose talented employees.
If you’re a board member looking the other way, as some say those overseeing The Weinstein Company did but its members deny, you may literally lose your seat at the table when the public learns about your role enabling a monster. (Weinstein admitted that his behavior had “caused a lot of pain,” and has since denied that he raped any of his accusers.) And you’ll spend a lifetime with the knowledge that as women became victims of harassment and assault, you did nothing or very little to stop it.
3. No. 1 on that list is directed to men, to wit: STOP BEING ASSHOLES. No 2, also directed to men: tell other men to stop being assholes.
— David Roberts (@drvox) October 10, 2017
So if you’re shocked or surprised by how Weinstein reportedly targeted and victimized women for years, ask yourself what behavior you defend or pretend doesn’t exist in your own workplace or social circles. Think about how to support a woman the next time she confides in you about harassment or assault. Reflect on why you might not believe her.
Then do the hard work of chipping away — or tearing down — the culture that routinely makes victims of women and help build another that condemns predatory behavior and abuse.
It’s the least you can do.