Calling out predators

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Tidal wave.

That’s how I was going to describe the growing number of accusations of sexual misconduct (and worse) in the wake of producer Harvey Weinstein’s fall.

Other Hollywood luminaries (director James Toback) have been accused since the news broke, as have television personalities (Mark Halperin, plus even more details as to the allegations against Bill O’Reilly have come to light); the bassist for Marilyn Manson … and George H.W. Bush. Poppy Bush! A tidal wave of reports — except, it isn’t, really – not when these recent, widely publicized reports are compared to how often sexual violence occurs. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are severely underreported. .

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center says “rape is the most underreported crime” and that 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Additionally, only 12 percent of child sexual abuse is reported to authorities, per NSVRC’s statistics.

And, for those who like to insist “women are lying” (looking at you, Sarah Huckabee Sanders!), research cited by the center found the prevalence of false reporting to be between 2 and 10 percent. (Also, sexual assault and harassment victims include men: 1 in 71 men are raped at some point in their lives, according to the NSVRC. Are they lying, too, or is it “just” the statistical 1 rape victim among every 5 women?)

For every sexual-assault complaint you might hear about, there are who-knows- how-many instances in which the victim keeps silent.

It’s not hard to see why, especially when there is a power imbalance between victim and perpetrator. The scale is tipped further against victims because of persistent, if varying, views of how the victims “asked for it” or failed to prevent it, or didn’t react the way others thought she or he should.

“How do we display ourselves, how do we present ourselves as women, what are we asking?” This was fashion designer Donna Karan’s response to news that her friend Weinstein had been accused of multiple instances of sexual predation.

“ … You look at everything all over the world today, you know, and how women are dressing and, you know, what they’re asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”

Karan has since backpedaled, calling her remarks a “horrible mistake.” You don’t say.

Karan is hardly alone in the mindset; even other women have said similar things since the news broke.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat, told an NBC station she grew up in a time when “it was as much the woman’s responsibility as the man’s.”

Had she stopped there, the remark might have been defensible as simply telling how people used to think. But she went on, “I’m from the old school that you can have behaviors that appear to be inviting. It can be interpreted as such. That’s the responsibility, I think, of the female. I think that males have a responsibility to be professional themselves.”

There’s a lot to unpack, here. According to the Texas Tribune, Johnson tried explaining she meant to empower women, saying women “have the power to control the situation” through reporting to the police, or by not cooperating, and that women allow offending men to get away with it (presumably by not reporting it).

Johnson was out of line. When your paycheck — or even your entire career — depends on not offending the man who signs the check, your options are limited. When reporting is met with doubt, ridicule and worse, the woman is not the one who is allowing the man to “get away with it.”

Johnson, too, later rescinded her comments and said she did not blame victims for the actions of perpetrators.

Response from alleged perpetrators has varied – from Weinstein, who, although he has denied criminal conduct, basically said he is helpless because of a “sex addiction,” to George Bush Sr. apologizing. (Other people in his camp, however, tried to use his age and infirmity to excuse reports by four different women that he groped them; his spokesman even trotted out the old he-didn’t-mean- anything-by-it defense.)

But we remain distressingly inclined to blame the victim, or even women in general, as Karan and Johnson’s statements — and countless similar statements through the centuries — show.

This does not tend to happen in crimes other than rape. While we might chide a burglary victim for leaving the door unlocked, we don’t say that because he didn’t secure his home, the law was not broken at all or he must have “wanted it to happen.”

The spate of news of prominent men being accused of sexual crimes and sexual harassment kept coming in October.

This is not because women suddenly wanted to pick up metaphorical torches and engage in a witch hunt. It is because seeing Weinstein topple made other victims feel emboldened enough to take the risk, to tell their story, to put on their social media accounts the hashtag “me too.”

Time magazine tackled the issue Oct. 12, with a cover referring to Weinstein as “producer, predator, pariah.” It was an important piece, featuring some of the accusers who have gone public, whose voices just may have sparked a movement. As central as Weinstein obviously was to the story, though, I could not help wishing the cover had featured some of these strong women, like Rose Mc- Gowan, who went on to take her message to the Women’s Convention in Detroit.

Maybe — just maybe — we are getting to the point in North America when an accuser might stand a chance of being believed, rather than scrutinized for an ulterior motive, or how she behaved, how much she drank, what she wore, what she looked like. Maybe, just maybe, we could even recognize them for their courage.

But maybe not.

In late October, two New York City officers were indicted on allegations they’d handcuffed a young woman for alleged drug possession, driven her to a parking lot and, while she was still cuffed, sexually assaulted her.

The officers have denied it — with, according to published reports, the go-to defense of the sex having been “consensual.” No word, though, on just why they thought it was appropriate to engage in any kind of sex with someone they had detained, while they were on duty.

The story gets worse. The officers also allegedly made hay of the woman’s social-media posts, which were less than virginal, and may have made a reference to a suit she filed. (Translation: “She must have wanted it, because look what she’s posting.”)

One news story about the matter, while well-rendered, included a photo of the woman posing in front of a mirror in a cropped blouse. The online version of this article did not include photographs of the officers, Eddie Martins and Richard Hall, even though they were the ones indicted.

And, as the Weinstein scandal erupted here, in Canada news emerged of a 2015 case involving a teenager whose taxi driver tried to kiss her, licked her face and groped her (BBC).

Judge Jean-Paul Braun convicted the defendant, Carl Figaro; however, he also brought up the victim’s appearance (“a bit overweight, but she has a pretty face”), suggesting she found the assailant’s attention flattering, since he “looks good … he has nice manners and … likes to wear cologne.”

Braun is supposed to apply the law. It is literally his job. Yet, the BBC reported Braun suggested “there are degrees of consent and question(ed) exactly which actions required (Figaro) to get the victim’s consent.”

The judge, per the BBC, also brought up kissing as compared to touching someone’s backside. So, because kissing someone supposedly isn’t as rape-y as grabbing a handful, a man doesn’t necessarily need the green light? I know very little about Canadian law, but … seriously?

This small sampling shows even the people who should most know better still give credence to old myths about a man’s “right” to sexual gratification, a woman’s “responsibility” to keep this supposedly superior being in check, and her trustworthiness.

It shows, distressingly, there might not be a society-wide, reliable way to get individuals to stop putting the onus of preventing assault onto the victims. Perhaps no amount of public outcry can change individual mindsets.

But individuals can. They should. And it’s past time that they do.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.

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From Katharhynn Heidelberg.