The year 2017 has been known for many things, with the latest in a sea of polarizing social and political debates climaxing in the takedown of a number of Hollywood legends through a flood of allegations of sexual misconduct ranging from groping to attempted assault to sexual assault. These accusations aren’t specific to this singular year —see Bill Cosby, amongst others —but recently, women and men have felt empowered enough to come forward and voice the abuse they’ve experienced at the hands of powerful moguls. And the sheer number of voices, as well as the media attention, is something that is attributed to this current period of time.
On a note of progression, it is remarkable how much our society continues to advance. In the last century, there have been so many waves of movements, from women’s rights to the end of segregation to marriage equality. We are currently in a period of ending transphobia and accepting people’s personal identifiers. And now, as witnessed by the recent Hollywood takedown, but also by the thousands of people across the nation who joined in the “me, too” movement, we are rightfully putting sexual predators in the hotseat.
There were the obvious creeps who rumors have been circulating about for many years—like Harvey Weinstein. Then there were the lecherous men—such as Steven Seagal and Brett Ratner—that fit the profile for predators. But society is now turning against once-beloved figures such as Kevin Spacey, as well as figures of comedy such as Louis C.K. Spacey, in particular, has enjoyed an immensely successful career as a talented Hollywood legend, and now his reputation is being shredded by the public in the wake of over a dozen accusations of misconduct.
The first thing that many doubters cite in their defense arguments is why has it taken the alleged victims so long to come forward? In some cases, complaints are resurfacing after several decades of silence. First of all, we need to understand that we do not know how the people who were abused feel or felt. We do not know the kinds of pressures they faced to keep silent, the fear of professional, social or even legal retribution. Many people likely didn’t come forward due to some variety of fear — especially since the abuse occured at the hands of powerful people — but also due to shame. It is hard to survive abuse. Many feel that once they identify as having been abused, that label will eclipse who they are and become their full identity. In order to precipitate change, many were in need of a catalyst, a person strong enough to rise alone out of the silence. Once this figure, or figures, broke down that wall of silence, there became a clear path for everyone else to charge through.
At the same time, it is important to remember that we live in a nation where people are innocent until proven guilty. Instead of having so many trials take place via social media, people should be taking these matters to court, so in the possibility that there is dishonesty involved, those being accused of crimes have the opportunity to defend themselves. But think about this: if three dozen men question a woman’s reputation, society is bound to believe that she is promiscuous or bad. Sometimes, it only takes one or two voices to paint a scarlet letter on a woman. But why is there doubt when three dozen women raise their voice against one man? Why is it so hard for us to believe that he is guilty?
To those who are saying they are tired of seeing these kinds of accusatory stories on the news everyday and that such stories are growing old —these stories aren’t meant to amuse. They aren’t meant to entertain. They are meant to wake people up and prevent others from experiencing similar mistreatment.
I hope that the sheer volume of these stories —which is aided by the star power of many of the accusers —scares Hollyweird creeps into being terrified of what will happen to their careers if they put their hands on another actress or actor. The more people come forward and vocalize their stories, the closer we are to living in a world where the only people who have to feel shame are the abusers —and those who have been abused can stand tall and united.
Hollywood holds an enormous presence and influence, not just in America, but in other areas of the world. Often times, this is troublesome, as many modern celebrities lead lives of questionable morals and preach vacant lessons of narcissism and hedonism. But there are also many celebrities who use their platforms to educate, aid and support; they are aware of their voices and try to be responsible with the power we give them. While the public is preoccupied with crucifying the predators, it should also take a moment to praise the kind and courageous.
I hope the voices of the many brave people stepping forward gives other people the courage to step up and name the abusers in their lives and seek legal help in holding the accountable for their actions. Though remember—no one owes you his or her story. It is easy to judge, but it takes a greater person to be empathetic.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know.