Why now? It’s a question often asked when stories like the ones concerning Harvey Weinstein emerge. When a powerful figure is revealed to have allegedly harassed and assaulted women over a period of years, if not decades. When a man abuses the power of his office and position and gets away with it – until the day it all comes crashing down.
Over the past week, through media reports and firsthand testimony, dozens of women have accused Weinstein, a powerful Hollywood executive, of harassment, assault and rape, with some accusations dating back 30 years.
What has emerged is a disturbing story of years of unchecked abuse, of Weinstein leveraging his power over young women’s careers and his influence over large swaths of Hollywood to get away with his actions and keep everyone quiet.
Still, as often happens in cases like this, people choose to question the victims. Question their testimony, question their memories and question the timing behind the accusations.
Why now? Why come forward 10 or 20 or 30 years after an event? The underlying thread, of course, is to call into question their credibility, cast doubt on their honesty and question their motivation for speaking up.
These types of stories, unfortunately, are a regular occurrence in the US, Israel and around the globe.
Without changing the way we approach workplace harassment, we can’t hope to end the silence of women who have been abused.
In the US, then-Fox News chairman Roger Ailes was accused last year of dozens of counts of sexual harassment over the decades of his career.
He resigned, was paid $40 million by Fox, and became an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Longtime Fox host Bill O’Reilly was fired earlier this year after it was revealed that he had paid off at least five women who accused him of sexual harassment.
And there are similar tales here in Israel.
Just two years ago, minister Silvan Shalom resigned after 23 years in the Knesset when almost a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment and assault over a period of at least 15 years. Only a month before that, Yinon Magal, a new MK from Bayit Yehudi, resigned after numerous allegations of harassment and assault while he was a private citizen.
And who, of course, can forget former president Moshe Katsav, who was accused of assaulting and raping up to 10 women. He was eventually convicted and spent five years in prison.
Just last month, on the eve of receiving a lifetime achievement award, singer Shlomo Gronich was hit with an allegation of sexual harassment dating back 25 years.
A woman, an aspiring singer at the time, said she was touched inappropriately when she visited Gronich’s home – when she was 17 and he was in his 40s. After her account hit the news, a second woman came forward, saying the singer drugged her and attempted to rape her. Less than two weeks later, a third woman wrote a letter accusing Gronich of raping her many years ago.
In virtually all of these cases, there have been those who have sought to defend the men involved and attack the veracity of the women’s claims.
One defender said Gronich’s accuser was simply jealous that she had never found the fame he did. Katsav has always maintained his innocence and accused the media and justice system of conspiring to bring him down.
What Weinstein, Ailes, O’Reilly, Shalom, Magal, Gronich and Katsav have in common is that their victims were subordinates, employees or colleagues who relied upon their attackers to advance their careers. Many of the women who have accused Weinstein of lewd behavior – from Kate Beckinsale to Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd and many more – said there were explicit or implicit threats that, if they didn’t comply, their careers would be damaged.
Weinstein allegedly preyed on young women who were hoping to launch their careers. Katsav attacked his employees, both as tourism minister and later as president. Gronich allegedly targeted aspiring young singers who saw him as a mentor and powerhouse in the field.
Many of these women took years to speak up about their abuse.
They all have their own reasons, but undoubtedly most were fearful of the consequences. Could this ruin their careers? Could they be deemed too sensitive, to be overreacting? Would they be believed at all? Would their names be dragged through the mud, their personal lives scrutinized, their reputations smeared? Would they be paid hush money to go away and never speak of it again? After all, just look at the case of MK Nissan Slomiansky. Last December, at least eight women reportedly alleged that the Bayit Yehudi lawmaker had behaved inappropriately toward them and engaged in sexual misconduct. The MK refused to resign and police said those women who agreed to file complaints were outside the statute of limitations.
To this day, Slomiansky remains in his position with virtually no repercussions.
It may take years or decades for a woman to gain the courage to speak out about abuse, rape or harassment.
I t may be made possible only by others speaking out, only by learning that they are not alone, only by understanding that maybe, finally, now they will be believed.
While society has come a long way over the past few decades, it is abundantly clear that there is still a great deal of work to be done. And creating an environment – around the globe – where women are not afraid to speak up and not implicitly or explicitly silenced must be at the top of the priority list.