Sexual harassment: 'No one cared then, but they care now'

Many have waited years or decades to tell stories of sexual harassment — but others spoke up, and were ignored.

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November 12, 2017 18:39
Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein poses on the Red Carpet after arriving at the 89th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, US, February 26, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE BLAKE)

 
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When the Los Angeles Times published an article last month accusing Hollywood producer Brett Ratner of multiple counts of sexual harassment, Danielle Berrin could not have been less surprised.

Berrin, a longtime Hollywood reporter for the Los Angeles-based Jewish Journal, had first-hand experience with Ratner’s creepy and abusive behavior.

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In fact, she’d even written about it.

But when Berrin published her accounts of the producer- director’s actions, starting back in 2008, “no one cared,” she told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview.

While Hollywood and the media world have been rocked repeatedly over the past few weeks by bombshell accusations of sexual assault and harassment, there are some stories that should have taken nobody by surprise.

Not just Ratner, but also Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and even Keshet president Alex Gilady had been rumored or been openly accused of such behavior in the past.

While many women waited years or decades before speaking up, others made their complaints known immediately, and were ignored or silenced.

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On Vox.com last week, former New Republic employee Sarah Wildman wrote that she complained to her boss 15 years ago when literary critic Leon Wieseltier forcibly kissed her in the bathroom.

Though a meeting was held, nothing came of it and no meaningful action was taken.

“It’s not exactly that I was disbelieved,” wrote Wildman, “it’s that in the end, I was dismissed.”

Several weeks ago, after his pattern of predatory behavior was revealed, Wieseltier lost multiple jobs and issued an apology.

In 2000, now-Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli told Yediot Aharonot that when she was working for Channel 2, Gilady hit her on the rear end, according to the newspaper.

Michaeli reportedly told Yediot at the time, “The first time I didn’t say anything, out of shock. The second time I told him not to do it again... six months later, when he did, I kicked him in the rear with all my strength.” The pair later became friends.

Michaeli was not available on Sunday to comment further.

Last week, the MK posted on Twitter, “Yes, I was friends with Alex Gilady. I didn’t know about the complaints against him, and I am pained to hear them.”

Last week, Gilady “stepped aside” from Keshet after several women made accusations against him, including accusations of rape.

Gilady has denied the allegations.

And while the comedy world was rocked by the accusations made in a New York Times article on Thursday about comedian Louis C.K., it didn’t come as much of a surprise to those in the know.

C.K. had been dogged by rumors of sexual misconduct for years – Gawker.com had written about it in 2015, and Vulture.com had asked the comedian about it last year.

His response? “I don’t care about that. That’s nothing to me. That’s not real.”

The Jewish Journal’s Berrin said she has seen a real sea change in attitudes and approach since she first wrote about Ratner.

After she interviewed Ratner in 2008, she wrote about his inappropriate advances during their time together.

The first sentence of her cover story about the producer read: “I’ve been cornered downstairs in the gold lamé disco basement at Brett Ratner’s house and he’s hitting on me.” Later Berrin wrote that he “drapes his arm around me and tries to hold my hand.” Berrin said last week that despite the fact that the article was widely read and got people talking, nobody seemed to bat an eyelash at his behavior.

A few years later, in a blog post, Berrin wrote that during her interview she had to repeatedly remove “Ratner’s hands from between my legs.”

But still, nobody seemed bothered.

“It was like crickets,” she said.

“No one cared then, but they care now - because things are different.”

Despite the almost decade that has passed, Berrin said she still remembers how she felt when she walked out of Ratner’s home that night.

“I felt horrible and I was deeply uncomfortable during the whole experience,” she said.

“I had to kind of squirm my way out the door.” Fast forward eight years, and Berrin wrote another cover story for the Jewish Journal, this one titled “My sexual assault, and yours: Every woman’s story.” In it, she described how a respected Israeli journalist and author “lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him.” He then tried to convince her to come upstairs to his hotel room.

She declined.

A week after it was published in late 2016, she said, the Israeli media pounced on the story, eventually uncovering the identity of the man in question: Ari Shavit.

Shavit subsequently lost his job at Haaretz and at Channel 10.

“My experience with Brett Ratner and my experience with Ari Shavit were actually not that different,” Berrin said.

What was different, she said, was that “the culture had evolved to start to recognize that this kind of behavior wasn’t okay anymore. Let’s face it – this has been going on for generations and it was unremarkable that men might behave this way toward women in a work environment.”

Berrin said that were the interview with Ratner to happen today, she would have written about it very differently.

“I didn’t know what to call it at the time,” she said.

But since then, “the language became more concrete, the labels were more direct.” Still, in the US, the publication of her 2016 story didn’t create much of a ripple.

Until the Israeli media got wind of it.

“I was completely astounded by the intensity of their hunt for who it was and the fact that they cared,” she said.

“I was very impressed.”

While Berrin sees a big difference today in the cultural reaction to such stories, she thinks more concrete action is necessary.

“It’s going to be a slow process,” she said. “We need to see some men like Harvey Weinstein go to jail. We need little boys to see on TV that this is what happens – that there are real consequences.”

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