Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Our One-Year-Later Series: Who Knew? Anti-Sexual Harassment Responses Accelerate In The Trump Year One
by Margaret Drew, co-editor and Professor, University of Massachusetts School of Law
More dramatic and large-scale responses to reports of sexual harassment have occurred in the past year and a half than in recent memory. The seeds of this remarkable change began during the last presidential campaign and have grown exponentially since the election.
Bill Cosby’s pattern of sexually assaulting women was notorious as well as traumatizing for his victims. The hung jury that resulted from his prosecution by Andrea Constand was indeed a huge victory. Sexual assault trials are largely unsuccessful because of negative stereotypes of victims that remain in the psyche of jurors and are promoted by defense counsel. A lack of understanding of the impact of trauma on survivors compounds the difficulty of prosecuting those who sexually assault. Women recognized this hung jury as a victory. And much followed.
The forced resignation of Roger Ailes, Fox News founder, after sexual harassment allegations by Megan Kelly and others happened mid-campaign, in proximity to the Cosby trial.
The recent removal of Harvey Weinstein from both Miramax and the Academy of Arts and Sciences following dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault was unprecedented. This was followed by public accusations against “celebrity” chef Josh Besh. Political author and analyst Mark Halperin was removed as a CNN commentator when women came forward with sexual harassment allegations against him. So far, Halperin is the only one to take responsibility publicly for his behavior and to receive therapy. The therapy is seemingly effective as the allegations stemmed from Halperin’s earlier years with ABC news. President George H. W. Bush has been inappropriately touching women for years, and apologized only now after allegations surfaced. Expect more public consequences for men who harass females.
Women found their voices with the election of President Trump. The Women’s March on January 21st, both in D.C. and around the world, was the largest public demonstration in our history. Yes – it was even larger than the number of inaugural attendees! Women united created a powerful voice and there is a direct link to women being empowered to make public allegations of sexual harassment, including sexual assault and the public fall of so many serial abusers.
My colleague and co-blogger Jeremiah Ho suggested that perhaps the rise in anti-sexual harassment responses is a direct result of our failure to keep a sexual predator out of the White House. I think he is on to something. When I participated in the Women’s March, I thought the motivation for marching was multi-layered. Primarily I thought women had recognized how much more dangerous and insecure their children’s and grandchildren’s world would be under Trump leadership. That and other concerns are valid. Having devoted my professional career to assisting survivors of gender violence, and seeing little progress in the employment and sexual assault arenas, perhaps I was unaware of how profoundly women generally had been affected by the Billy Bush tape. Perhaps the primary motivator was failure of the country to denounce candidate Trump after release of his infamous remarks. Was the election of a known and proven sexual predator to our highest office the trigger to women’s activism?
Historians will debate that question. But we do know that one year later the consequences of the election include women exposing their oppression, being believed, and seeing large scale consequences for their oppressors. This is not only news, it is new.
Next steps: most of the accusers to date are white. I realize that show business is a largely white business, which has been a matter of controversy of its own. We need to find a way to bring the same power to the voices of our sisters of color.
[Ed's Note: This is the second in our series of Human Rights Law Prof reflections on the past year, following the November 2016 election. Stay tuned for more! The first blog in the series, by Fran Quigley, is here.]