Toss Out the Casting Couches

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Karen Ha

The Harvey Weinstein scandal, in which dozens of women accused the famous film producer of sexually harassing or assaulting them since this October, seems to have catalyzed victims to speak out against suspected perpetrators in greater numbers.

Now, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and other directors are accused of harassment. Might Weinstein have triggered a significant change in the entertainment industry where victims feel more enabled to speak out soon after the fact?

After The New York Times first reported on Oct. 5 that Harvey Weinstein has been paying off sexual harassment accusers for decades, a number of women shared accounts of horrific interactions with him. The seemingly endless list stretched from notable celebrities like Cara Delevigne to reporters like Laura Sivan.

Not only did the first report lead to a cascade of victims speaking up, it also sparked a movement. Actress Alyssa Milano turned to social media to ask anyone who experienced sexual harassment or assault to write “me too.”

The two simple words became a battle cry against sexual harassment and assault as people around the world responded with their stories. When Weinstein was fired from The Weinstein Company, his downfall encouraged other victims to come forward.

The cliché of the Hollywood casting couch, the concept that directors demand sexual favors from actors in exchange for acting roles, is very much alive and real. It is clear that Weinstein is just one of the many people who was not afraid to use a position of power to take advantage of people.

This incident empowered other victims to confront their offenders, including American film actor Anthony Rapp, who spoke out against Kevin Spacey’s misbehavior.

Despite this moment of empowerment, one thing that most victims have in common is that they are already well-established in their careers. Therefore, they are less afraid of any backlash or retaliation from people in the industry.

If a relatively unknown, young actress or actor struggling to make ends meet happens to get entangled in a situation involving sexual assault, he or she would most likely be more hesitant to speak out about such abuse.

Some may be fearful of losing career prospects. The choice is between work and the risk of sleeping on the streets.

Worst of all, sexual assault is not exclusive to the entertainment industry; this happens everywhere.

If you recently ate at a restaurant, female employees there most likely faced some sort of sexual harassment. A 2014 report that Slate referenced claims that 90 percent of women who worked in the restaurant industry report being sexually harassed at some point.

About 39 percent of National Park employees experience sexual harassment, according to Buzzfeed. Even if you escape to the most remote place on the planet, Antarctica, it seems women are unsafe. Recently two women complained of being sexually harassed by a geologist in Antarctica.

The Weinstein revelations are obviously just the tip of the iceberg. Although The New York Times exposé empowered victims to speak out against their perpetrators, there is more work to be done for real change.

There needs to be protection for victims because many end up being victim-blamed or retaliated against for sharing their stories.

There also need to be harsh consequences for perpetrators. If sexual offenders are not severely punished for their crimes, then how will others be discouraged from doing the same? Simply being removed from a position is not enough.

For example, after Bill O’Reilly was accused of sexual misconduct, he was removed from his network, but he left with $25 million dollars. This was hardly a punishment.

People in every industry need to stand together with victims of sexual assault and harassment in calling out abusers. Alone, a person in a weaker position cannot achieve justice against someone in a more powerful position.

Preventing sexual abuse is a group effort. Otherwise, we are just leaving the same couches there for the next person to sit on.  

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