Column: How will Harvey Weinstein affect how we view sexual assault?

In the midst of the “Weinstein effect,” we need to decide how to move forward as a society.

Harvey Weinstein in Paris at the 2014 César Awards ceremony. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Maddie Niblett is a freshman journalism major at MU. She is an opinions columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Ever since entertainment industry mogul and proud dad-bod owner Harvey Weinstein was revealed to be a total creep, dozens of other prominent men in the entertainment industry and otherwise have been accused of similar misconduct via social media. Will this parade of sexual assault revelations, coined the “Weinstein effect,” bring to light and change the misogynistic culture of powerful men forever or fade into history as just another series of incidents to be covered up and overlooked for the sake of maintaining cultural norms?

In 2014, Bill Cosby faced a similar onslaught of sexual assault allegations with the publicization of one accusation leading to many, many more. The question is, why didn’t this incident, which was so similar in nature and in sheer numbers, cause a drastic change in the behavior of these people who are now being called out for their objectification and abuse of women, and what can society do to make sure that a scandal of this immensity never needs to happen again?

Even though over 50 women accused Cosby of sexual assault, many people still have a hard time believing that he committed such horrible crimes because of his legacy as the ultimate American TV father figure. The validity of Cosby’s victims’ stories was called into question many times, discouraging other victims of sexual assault from sharing their stories. In comparison, the Weinstein scandal has called into question the very nature of money and influence, helping shape a culture that no longer unconditionally idolizes those whose success lets them act as they please. This disillusionment sets the stage for victims to come forward and be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, this is only one of the first times that resistance to the unpleasant truth about powerful people has been largely absent. In the past, victims’ stories were discredited or ignored. Our own president has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, even bragged about committing sexual assault and faced virtually no consequences for it. This behavior is a product of a culture that wants to glorify famously successful people despite dehumanizing acts that they committed.

Holding a position of high monetary power and cultural entitlement gives some people the idea that they have a free pass to do what they want to whomever they want and not face repercussions. If we can create a culture that does not accept such heinous behavior and allows victims to speak up without blame, the Weinstein effect will come to mean a phenomenon that dismantles the idea that money and influence determine whether or not a person is held responsible for their actions.

At MU, the RSVP Center is available as a resource for those who have faced or are facing sexual violence. Getting involved with this group or even just starting simple conversations about sexual assault will help destigmatize the crime and help sexual assault survivors feel comfortable speaking up about their experiences.

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