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Why Does Sexual Harassment Still Exist?

Updated: Jan 10

Despite such progress, incidences of sexual harassment and sexual assault persist and perpetrators continue to go unpunished. By Sophie Jarvis I September 15, 2021

On Oct. 5, 2017, The New York Times published an exposé that focused on allegations against Harvey Weinstein. The piece, written by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, detailed the claims made against the movie mogul, by top actresses, former Weinstein employers, and others. This ground-breaking piece of journalism sparked the beginning of the #MeToo movement, a term coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2006. Over the following days, over 100 women came forward with allegations against Weinstein. In February of 2020, a jury convicted Weinstein of two of five criminal charges: one count of criminal sexual assault in the first degree and one count of rape in the third degree, and he was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Throughout the investigation, it became apparent that Weinstein’s modus operandi was to leverage his professional position to attempt to coerce women into engaging in sexual acts. Actress Rosanna Arquette told The New Yorker that she had rejected an advance made from Weinstein in the early 1990s. She said that he told her she was making a “big mistake”, and she claimed that he made things very difficult for her for years. Other actresses claimed that they were offered career advancements in exchange for sexual favors. This demonstrates that the corruption of power that exists in the industry allows for powerful men can use their status to satisfy their own ends.

Undoubtedly, as we approach the fourth anniversary of the #MeToo movement, positive changes have occurred in response to the momentum caused by the work of activists. The media coverage of Weinstein exposed the systemic problem around the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). A former assistant to Weinstein, Zelda Perkins, signed such an NDA as part of a settlement, which prevented her from telling anyone that Weinstein had exposed himself to her on multiple occasions. In September 2018, California banned non-disclosure agreements in cases involving sexual assault, with New York and New Jersey enacting similar laws.

Despite such progress, incidences of sexual harassment and sexual assault persist and perpetrators continue to go unpunished. Over 40% of women in the US have encountered sexual violence, and 90% of rape victims are female. An article published by CNN in 2017 concluded that the ‘overarching issue globally that needs to be changed, experts agree, is the entitlement shown and perceived by men’. Indeed, it is widely agreed that acts of sexual assault and harassment against women are about violence and the exertion of power: sex is the weapon that is used to make another person submit to your will. As long as there is inequality between genders, both in the workplace and across society, men will exploit this and continue to sexually harass and assault women, as they have the power to do so.

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