Terra Incognita: The predators among us

Numerous cases of high-profile sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against powerful men remind us of the need to speak out.

October 14, 2017 21:31
Terra Incognita: The predators among us

Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein gestures during the Allen and Co. media conference in Sun Valley. (photo credit: RICK WILKING / REUTERS)

The French former head of a massive international institution. The American executive of a major film studio.

A famous and influential rabbi. A former congressman and mayoral candidate. A well-known academic at one of Israel’s most prestigious universities. A British entertainer.

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These are just the tip of the iceberg of the predators among us. They are all men. Many were born in the late 1940s or early 1950s, but some are younger. For each one we know about, there are many others.

Each gross sexual harasser has his own modus operandi. One of them films women secretly in the shower who seek to convert to his faith. He abuses their youth and trust.

Most of all he knows that they need him, he has power over them. Another man invited a young actress to breakfast, but it just happens to be served in his hotel room. When she arrives he is in a bathrobe and asks for a massage. Another woman gets a devil’s bargain – sexual favors for help in her career.

The patterns of “massages” and appearing in bathrobes goes on for decades. Lawsuits are quietly settled with payoffs and non-disclosure agreements. The women who get money are the lucky ones, in a sense. Others simply have their careers ruined or are told to be quiet. These are powerful men with contacts in politics, law enforcement, entertainment industries and among the right sort of literati, with the best lawyers and friends in high places.

What else do some of these men do? They harass cleaning ladies and domestic staff.

They just happen to be naked in their hotel room when a woman knocks on the door to turn down the beds. Maybe she is a foreign worker, she’s an easy target. Sometimes these men make mistakes, they lunge at a woman during an interview and she decides not to keep quiet about it. The threats and lawyers don’t dissuade her. The defamation suits don’t work.

Usually these men have an undoing at some point. The man who installs cameras to watch converts undress does get found out and goes to prison. The man who sends sexual text messages to teenage girls eventually is caught and sent to prison. Another man is briefly detained until the prosecution’s case falls apart. Semen found on the hotel floor apparently isn’t enough evidence that he sexually assaulted a woman. It was consensual he says. The pubic hair on a can of Coca-Cola wasn’t enough to sink the man seeking to be a Supreme Court justice. He’s still there.

These kinds of men span the political and religious spectrum. Each institution responds to allegations basically the same way. First they cover it up and quietly settle lawsuits or threaten women who try to speak up. This is true at universities and major media companies, at film studios and at theaters hosting modern dance performances.

It’s the same in journalism as it is in major NGOs.

There is no evidence that ostensibly “liberal” or “feminist” organizations do better managing sexual harassment claims than right-wing and conservative organizations, such as churches or talk radio. A recent case of a vegan activist accused of sexual assault or cases of activists in peace groups whose rapes were covered up illustrate this phenomenon.

Everyone is up to their neck in hypocrisy. You’d think, for instance, that a church or a synagogue would quickly distance themselves from an abuser, but actually they find excuses. They send the priest to an internal “rehab,” as was revealed in the film Spotlight. They make excuses for a rabbi and say he should do tshuva, repent a bit and that the community should “handle it internally.”

After all, if the secular authorities handle it, then it might tarnish the image of the faith. It couldn’t be that raping kids tarnishes the faith? No. Religious groups turn out to be particularly bad at protecting children from rapists. There’s the woman accused of more than 70 cases of child sexual assault whose community helped her flee the country.

Even I don’t name names in this column, after all, the long arm of these communities and their lawyers can reach us anywhere.

Why do communities so often protect the predators? There is also a laundry list of excuses. “He’s a dinosaur, he doesn’t know how to behave in this era.” Or, “He has a problem, he needs help.” Or, “He made a mistake, let’s let him ask for forgiveness.” Or, “He just admires beautiful women.” Right.

Dozens of text messages at midnight to a new intern at a TV channel by a high-ranking host. He just likes “beautiful women.” It couldn’t be that actually he likes to prey on interns who are seeking a career in journalism and he has done it for decades.

How about the elderly professor at the university who asked my friend to sit on his lap in 2005. He just doesn’t know how to behave in our era? Really? In his era in the 1960s when he was young, was it normal to sit on the professor’s lap alone in his office when working as his assistant? It wasn’t normal in 1950 to put pubic hair on a woman’s cup in the office. It wasn’t normal in the 1980s. It isn’t normal in 2017.

It isn’t because these men don’t know any better, it is precisely because they know very well what they are doing. They are all kind of the same types of men, also. Just look at the faces and characters of the sexual harassers.

They aren’t the quiet, nerdy types of men. They are the gregarious ones. The ones who enjoy fame and power. Many of them wouldn’t have any trouble getting women the normal, legal, way. But they enjoy dehumanizing, harming, abusing, preying on, women. They don’t need “help” as if they are the victims. They need to be outed, punished and they need to take responsibility.

Probably they can’t be reformed. Power and institutions allowed their corruption to grow and exploit systems of power.

The least we can do is to not remain silent and to stand by the victims.

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