Weinstein and his 'culture of complicity'
More and more women have come forward in recent days to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse by film producer Harvey Weinstein, breaking the long silence surrounding his behavior. The details of Weinstein's actions are grotesque enough. But just as shocking is the fact that his systematic abuse of power seems to have been an open secret.
The allegations described by the New York Times and the New Yorker follow a brutal pattern. Weinstein would invite a young woman into his hotel room for a meeting before making advances and exposing himself. Some of the women he harassed and attacked tell stories of locking themselves in bathrooms or closets to hide from him. In one exchange caught on tape by the New York Police Department, Weinstein tries to wheedle an actress into his room and explains that he is "used to" groping women.
While many women have made their experiences public, legal settlements previously reached with Weinstein have prevented others from speaking out. Meanwhile, his employees - some of whom he reportedly assaulted or harassed as well - are bound by nondisclosure agreements. And such contracts were not the only tools that Weinstein used to ensure silence. Aspiring actresses and rising stars describe fearing that the powerful producer could end their careers if they spoke out against him. Weinstein also turned the media into a weapon: In at least one case, he fed negative information to reporters about an accuser who had gone to the police.
Even if stories of Weinstein's abusive behavior never fully reached the public, they surfaced in the form of hints and gossip and circulated among women who warned each other to be wary. But not only women knew. The Times' reporting shows that the board of Weinstein's company, which recently forced him out, had been aware of allegations of misbehavior since at least 2015 but never conducted an investigation. Weinstein, who often relied on the presence of female employees to help draw in victims, surrounded himself with what the New Yorker describes as a "culture of complicity."
This same complicity protects many Harvey Weinsteins in many industries. Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes left the network in 2016 after revelations surfaced of his persistent sexual harassment of female employees, and anchor Bill O'Reilly departed the following year - both of whom Fox News protected from harassment allegations by paying out multimillion-dollar settlements to their accusers. And any honest accounting of men whose power shields them from consequences must include the occupant of the Oval Office, who boasted about sexual assault and whom multiple women have accused of harassment.
It's possible that Weinstein could still face legal repercussions from his behavior, though the likelihood of success of any such suit remains unclear. We hope the stories of the women who lived through Weinstein's attacks will give other victims the strength to come forward. But these stories also make clear the crucial role that those in positions of responsibility must play by denouncing misconduct when they see it and demanding accountability, rather than remaining quietly complicit.