In the past few months, Hollywood has been rocked by a wave of sexual assault allegations that have shaken it to its core. Beginning with Harvey Weinstein, reports of those in front of the camera — such as Andy Dick and Kevin Spacey — to those behind the camera — such as Brett Ratner and James Toback — harassing women (and, in some cases, men) have become a regular occurrence in headlines. And, while it doesn’t seem like we can go a day without more news like this emerging from the dark underbelly of Hollywood, it’s important that we never fail to treat each and every case with as much attention, outrage, and respect.
Let’s not forget that Hollywood has a history of powerful men taking advantage of women — look no further than the cases against Casey Affleck, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, and Roman Polanski, just to name a few. And, if you thought this was a who’s who of awards shows, just look at the women accusing these men of heinous deeds: Patricia Arquette, Björk, Viola Davis, Rosario Dawson, Ellen DeGeneres, Cara Delevingne, Laura Dern, Anna Faris, America Ferrera, Ilana Glazer, Lupita Nyong'o, Heather Graham, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, Trace Lysette, Rose McGowan, Debra Messing, Alyssa Milano, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anna Paquin, Molly Ringwald, Anika Noni Rose, Jenny Slate, Mira Sorvino, Amber Tamblyn, Reese Witherspoon, Evan Rachel Wood, Gabrielle Union, and Charlyne Yi. You most likely recognize every name here — which leaves out men who have also come forward — and, the sad part is, it’s not even all of them.
“Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly,” Judd told The New York Times in the article that started it all. Since then, actresses — as well as women in other areas of Hollywood — have been coming forward with their own stories of sexual assault. Ringwald wrote in a New Yorker piece that these events occurred “at a time when I was trying to figure out what it meant to become a sexually viable young woman” and that “at every turn, some older guy tried to help speed up the process.” Lawrence and Witherspoon shared their stories at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards. “I have my own experiences that have come back to me very vividly, and I have found it hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate,” Witherspoon said. Lawrence admitted, “I let myself be treated a certain way because I felt I had to for my career.” Ferrera, who detailed an account on social media, said all of this was for a purpose: “Ladies, let’s break the silence so the next generation of girls won’t have to live with this bullshit.”
The stories of uncomfortable situations or nonconsensual sex — whether by force or coercion— are varied. No matter what went down, the fact remains that none of these women asked for it to happen, have been holding onto this trauma for quite some time, and are brave enough to relive these hurtful moments from their past in order to change the way society views sexual assault. Not only do they need to be listened to, believed, and applauded for this, but we need to treat each and every story as if it was just as important as the one preceding it — because it is. Not falling into this mindset is going to ensure that people coming forward have a safe and loving environment in which to do so. The stories that have already come out are not “old news” and the stories yet to come out aren’t things you should consider “too much,” “boring,” “just another one,” or “overwhelming.” While we’re all tired of hearing these headlines — so many because each accused person usually has numerous victims associated with them — they shouldn’t stop until change is made in the industry.
While it seems as though this is a bleak time for Hollywood — and it is — it’s also a time for them to figure out how to proceed into the future by making sure this doesn’t happen again or, if it does, that it doesn’t remain a dirty little secret for years. Variety recently held a panel at its Inclusion Summit, where a few ideas about how to handle sexual assault going forward were put forth. "It's a moment to seize now. We all have to be vigorous and deliberate in our discussion about this, in our actions," Dawn Hudson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said. Some solutions mentioned were establishing a confidential hotline so individuals could report instances of harassment while remaining anonymous (at least at the beginning) and the Academy creating a code of conduct explicitly listing what is and isn't acceptable, dictating what is grounds for expulsion (which happened to Weinstein). For others, the answer was simple: hire women, confront racism, get men to speak out and police each other, pay everyone fairly, and get rid of the silence that keeps victims in the dark.
Until these things are implemented, power is kept in check, and the stigma around coming forward about sexual assault is vanquished, the reality is that you are going to continue seeing headlines about it. Those revealing their painful secrets need an environment in which they feel they are able to speak openly about this topic. That's the only way to get the change we need. That's the only way to make sure this doesn't continue happening. That's the only way to show these victims that we hear them, we see them, and we will continue fighting for them.