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SINGH: Victims of sexual assault should be encouraged to speak up

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One name that most people are familiar with these days is Harvey Weinstein, the 65-year-old Academy Award winner, American film producer, former co-chairman of The Weinstein Company and newly uncovered sexual predator.  

Weinstein played a major role in casting the actresses for his successful movies. Being a film executive has its perks, one being power. Power gives one the ability to do as he or she pleases with little to no repercussions. Power is what gave Weinstein the ability to sexually harass a shocking number of females in the film industry without facing consequences — until now. 

At least 25 women have publicly come out and accused the media mogul of various violations including talented stars, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Mira Sorvino. 

While some have come out, others have chosen to remain silent. Actresses that have been propositioned by tycoons have chosen to remain silent for the fear of losing their standings in their professions, character assassination, the possibility of being blacklisted and financial setbacks. Weinstein served as co-chairman of his company from 2005 to 2017, when he was fired. He has been in the media business for decades and this has enabled him to build contacts, acquire a large number of resources and make high-profile connections. His spokesperson released a statement saying that he would like to “resurrect” himself if given a second chance, further inducing fear in the women who have suffered at his hands. He is well connected with talent and casting agencies, thus, the actresses fear tarnishing their reputations coming forward with their stories. According to the National Women Law Center's website, approximately 70 to 90 percent of victims do not file a complaint with their employers or with fair employment agencies. It also takes a lot of courage to openly come out and re-telling the encounters often means reliving the traumatic memories that are often repressed. There are multiple factors in play when it comes to opening up and filing harassment reports.  For example, women in the work force are quite often subjected to sexual advances and verbal harassment, especially in male dominated professions. In situations like this, coming forward places a risk on the victim’s job security. She needs the job, needs the money and will endure the suffering until a better career opportunity comes by. She is going to need that employer as a reference for her next job, a lot is being put on the line. A poll conducted by ABC News-Washington Post last month indicated that 54 percent of American women have endured unwelcomed advances and harassment at some point in their lives. The results also indicated that 25 percent of the perpetrators were men who have influence over their career standings. In the U.S. alone, 33 million women have been sexually harassed and 14 million have been sexually abused in work-related episodes. And most male violators typically get away unscathed. 

In the entertainment industry, many powerful men use business related situations to sexually press younger women, coercing them to perform acts in order to be casted for roles. Acts like this have long occurred in male dominated fields but have been brought to light in more recent years. The ball started rolling when Anita Hill famously testified against now-Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas, who was her boss at the time, in 1991 when he repeatedly sexually harassed her at work. Her testimony blasted the term "sexual harassment" into public conversation and consciousness for the first time. She is a Black woman and she testified in front of an all-white male board where her character was repeatedly attacked and her credibility was questioned on national television, but her courage and conviction enabled her to pull through and she was victorious. Ever since her case, there has been more talk of sexual harassment in the workplace, but it is still not enough. 

Men of power often get away with such deeds as it is easy to cover up small individual allegations with a decent donation to a non-profit or something equally riveting to change the headlines to paint a positive picture over their smeared names. No one likes to question the CEOs, managers and the big shots of companies. As seen in the famous cases of Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Ben Affleck and now recently Harvey Weinstein, it takes many victims to come forward, to unite as one to bring down such giants. It is important to support each individual that speaks out as she or he has been through so much pain and suffering and is undergoing more distress when coming out about their own abuse. Shame, fear and cultural norms prevent victims from speaking up. As humans, it is our duty to create this safe space for our brothers and sisters so that they are comfortable opening up and so their perpetrators face the rightful consequences and justice can be served. 

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Got Rights?", runs on alternate Wednesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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