Sexual harassment and oppression against women has long been a part of global society. Amidst the recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein and countless other prominent male figures, one has to wonder why it has taken so long for us to condemn sexual harassment and whether the “Weinstein effect” will actually have a lasting impact on society. With the new #MeToo movement, women and men are now speaking out against these individuals and citing decades of harassment and abuse they have suffered. However, the fact that consequences are actually being set in place for these individuals shows that this movement truly is a tipping point for society’s view on sexual misconduct.
On Oct. 5, 2017, The New York Times and The New Yorker released a report of decades of sexual misconduct claims against film producer Harvey Weinstein whose entertainment company produced critically acclaimed films such as Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, and Good Will Hunting. More than 80 women accused him of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, prompting his resignation from The Weinstein Company and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The allegations and the subsequent “Me Too” hashtag, in which women shared their own experiences with sexual harassment, led to a “national reckoning” against sexual abuse. In the entertainment industry, numerous actors were accused of sexual abuse, which led to the cancellations of projects they were involved in. Furthermore, political figures such as Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, and Roy Moore, a candidate for the Alabama senate seat, were also accused of sexual misconduct and assault.
The sheer number of allegations of sexual misconduct and assault towards prominent figures is overwhelming and quite honestly, depressing. The fact that these cases have been hushed for so long shows that there is a clear problem in our society. We have allowed these figures to remain in power for so long even though reports have pointed to their involvement in sexual harassment and abuse. Rumors of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory actions towards women had been around in Hollywood for years, yet no legal action occurred. Weinstein would often invite younger actresses or models into a hotel room or office under the pretense of discussing their careers, and then demand massages or sexual favors. Weinstein has been accused of sexually assaulting and harassing 13 women, and raping three others. According to the New Yorker, Weinstein used money and legal agreements to hide allegations of predation for decades. The women who made allegations were often much younger and less powerful than Weinstein. Under pressure from attorneys on both sides, they signed non-disclosure agreements that kept the entire affair under wraps.
However, we can find comfort in the fact that finally, actual consequences are being delivered to these individuals. While previous cases only had relatively unknown accusers, now well known celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Cara Delevingne have accused Weinstein and other entertainment heads of sexual misconduct. Not only was Weinstein removed from the entertainment industry, but criminal and civil rights investigations are now being opened. Actors are being pulled from projects and are facing crumbling careers. Alabama, which has been largely Republican since the 1980’s, has recently become a Democratic state with the election of Doug Jones as senator. The Republican candidate, Roy Moore, was an alleged sex offender who approached female teens. Sexual harassment has become a national and global discussion, and it is about time that society changed its treatment of women.
Although sexual harassment may seem like a faraway concept, it occurs in the education system as well. According to senior counselor James Hutcherson, about three to four sexual harassment complaints occur every year at Kaiser. The official response to these complaints is to first listen. Depending on the severity of the situation, a mediation is made between the two parties so that they come to an understanding. In more severe cases, class schedules are arranged so that the perpetrator will not be able to interact with the victim during instructional periods. If the incident occurs off-campus, the school has no authority to do anything. However, school officials encourage the victim to contact the police. Restraining orders have been filed in the past, and students have gone to court.
Sexual harassment is not the only problem in terms of sexual misconduct in our state. There are more than 3,400 registered sex offenders in Hawai’i, and many cases go unreported. However, if our government passes Erin’s Law, then our state can effectively tackle this problem by educating the public and showing that we will not allow this problem to continue any longer. The bill would require all public schools to implement age-appropriate, prevention-oriented education programs to inform school personnel, parents, and students about child sexual abuse. The program will be implemented from pre-K through 12th grade, where students will learn “age-appropriate techniques for recognizing child sexual abuse and telling a trusted adult,” according to Honolulu Star-Advertiser article, For our keiki, pass Erin’s Law now. Similar bills have already been passed in 31 states, and pending in 15 other states. For the sake of our states’ students, our government must join the number of states who have already passed this legislation.
The “Weinstein effect” has been sparking a national discussion on sexual harassment, and will change our society’s view on sexual misconduct. It is irresponsible to continue to write off incidents with the all too familiar excuses: “Boys will be boys,” “She/he was asking for it,” and so on. Sexual harassment should be treated as a crime, and dealt with as such not only with political figures and celebrities, but in our school system as well. The recent #MeToo campaign is encouraging students to report incidents, but steps must be taken to discourage sexual harassment from the very start, either by setting up education programs or raising awareness of the problem. The US is experiencing a revolution in the way we treat women, but it’s up to us to make sure that change lasts.