What began with a handful of allegations against Harvey Weinstein has spurred a movement of accusations and allegations against American celebrities that stretch from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.
It seems that there are new allegations in the news every day, despite most of these cases having taken place over a decade ago. But why are so many victims coming out now and why are these cases so similar? Finding answers to these questions may lend some clarity to what the future of the ‘Me Too’ movement should look like.
An example of similarities in assault stories can be found in the very similar details of the accusations made toward movie and television star Jeremy Piven and the allegations toward movie producer Harvey Weinstein and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. They all detail acts of power and recklessness, where the man denied decency and forced himself upon the woman.
Piven’s accusations include an alleged victim stating that, “he jumped on top of me. I tried to push him off and he forced me to the ground.” Another one of the accusations, there have been four in total, was made by a woman who said that Piven exposed his bare genitals to her on the balcony at a house party in 2011.
The accusations against Weinstein are almost indistinguishable at times in the manner that he allegedly forced himself upon the women. Some of the accusations, spread out over the span of more than three decades, include details of him forcing women to spend the night in hotel rooms with him, making women perform oral sex on him in hotel hallways, meeting them in private rooms while wearing minimal to no clothes, and making women give him massages.
Roy Moore’s allegations have stayed mostly in the realm of statutory rape accusations, detailing a middle-aged Moore’s attempts at taking young women that were below the age of 18 on dates. However, an outlier was found in the accusations of Beverly Young Nelson, who said that Moore offered her a ride home from work, then pulled behind a dumpster and tried to forcibly have sex with her. Nelson recalled that once she had made her way out of the vehicle, Moore allegedly said to her, “You’re just a child and I am the District Attorney of Etowah County, and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.”‘
The most striking similarities are in the way that they allegedly talked to the women. In the accusation of Piven exposing himself to a woman at a party, he allegedly said, “Look all this can be yours” to her. Weinstein also allegedly said, “So, was seeing me naked the highlight of your internship?” after forcing a woman into massaging him.
The confidence and forcefulness of the way that they talk and act towards women is the relevant problem in all of their accusations. It is made obvious through their alleged actions that they were not worried about legal action and may even see it as a thrill to sleep with an non-consenting woman.
This is where the celebrity sexual assault problem lies, in the underlying similarities of their actions and what this says about their feelings towards the act, as well as the well-known fact that legal justice is scarce, if even possible when dealing with people of this power and economic stature.
These implications suggest that the problem of sexual assault is not an individual level, but something far more widespread.
Identifying the Movement
The surge of allegations against celebrities and other powerful Americans has not gone without a name and supporters; being dubbed the “Me Too” movement on twitter and other social media outlets.
“Me Too” has been utilized as a hashtag on Twitter by the likes of victims and supporters of the movement. For example, Leeann Tweeden came out with her allegations against Senator Al Franken through a first-hand piece on Los Angeles news outlet KABC and a tweet stating, “I’ve decided it’s time to tell my story. #MeToo.”
Not only has social media played a large hand in the development of this social movement, but large news outlets have had their hand in kindling the fire in various ways. Major outlets such as the New York Times, Huffington Post, and Washington Post have done their part in breaking large stories.
The New York Times investigative journalist Jodi Kantor is the reporter broke the Harvey Weinstein story that served as the catalyst for the movement. To the same effect, the Washington Post more recently reported that a conservative activist tried to infiltrate and spread false information about a rape accusation against Roy Moore.
The activist, identified as Jaime Phillips, came to a journalist at the Washington Post with an accusation that Moore impregnated her at the age of 15 and forced her to get an abortion. After finding inconsistencies in her accusations and backstory, the Post declined to publish Phillips’ story and instead published the events of her trying to infiltrate their outlet with false accusations.
However, the media’s role in the surge of sexual assault accusations and allegations has not only been a positive one. UNC Media and Journalism Professor Lois Boynton stressed in an interview, “It’s [the media’s role] two-fold; the media have been recipients of tips and allegations, but they have also fallen victims to having notable employees get in trouble and then they have to figure out how to cover themselves.”
In the wake of the firing of longtime NBC host Matt Lauer, Boynton’s point rings with heightened legitimacy. Despite the usefulness of heavily-followed news companies, they also have had their own internal problems with perpetrators within their own ranks, raising ideas of a culture of assault that goes past business lines.
“You’re hearing organizations say, ‘that’s not our culture’ but based on the number of allegations, I’m not so sure about that,” said Boynton.
The Future of American Justice and Culture
This idea of a culture, not individual moments, is what makes the movement so crucial. Men like Matt Lauer, John Conyers, and Adam Venit, the accused assaulter of actor Terry Crews, are not parts unassociated from a larger entity. When organizations, as Boynton said, “distance themselves and get rid of the bad apple, until the next bad apple comes along,” they are denying the fact that it is widespread across their industry and the country as a whole.
To add to this, it does not help the cause of victims who want to come out against high profile celebrities like politicians when their party and country leaders vehemently deny their validity. This past month, Nancy Pelosi backed down on her former statements that all accusers should be taken seriously when she was asked in an interview about her Democrat peer John Conyers.
“I don’t know who they are,” Pelosi replied. “Do you? They have not really come forward.”
It is statements like that, along with Donald Trump’s recent announcement of support for Roy Moore, that puts the movement in danger of losing legitimacy and the opportunity to capitalize on the moment at hand. For victims to get the justice that they deserve, it is going to take support from leaders of the country and high-profile celebrities admitting that there is a problem, even when that problem includes someone who has ties to them.
Finally, Boynton detailed what the future of the movement should look like for supporters and the media.
She stated that, “I think the supporters of the movement have to focus on what is it that allows this kind of behavior and how to keep the discussion going so that the culture can change and the attitude [towards accusations] can change.”
Boynton stressed that advocates and victims alike should not be satisfied with the ousting of individuals, but instead focus on the realization and adjustment of a larger social problem.
In the case of the media’s role in the fate of the movement, Boynton said, “The challenge for media is how to get out of episodic storytelling, to more thematic ‘what are we going to do about the issue’ stories.”
It is important to have 24/7 news about new accusations, but progress will be stagnant until large media organizations work on pieces that go deeper into why and how these crimes continue to happen.
The #MeToo movement still has time, if media does its job in illuminating the growing number of accusations and stories that are left to be told. But they cannot become complacent in the success that they have already found.
For more women and men like Beverly Young Nelson and Terry Crews to feel safe and supported in their fight for justice, they must have a campaign of backers behind them to assist in the process.
This development of historic proportions has a ceiling of indefinite possibilities for the future of American sex culture, it is up to the strong and the weak for justice to be had.