I have chosen not to watch new movies by Woody Allen. I suspect he is guilty, an unrepentant pedophile. Worse, his art seems to celebrate the very offenses of which he’s been accused. I spent an hour in a hotel room with Allen — interviewing him — and walked away with no better impression than the one shaped by public opinion. Yuck.
One of my favorite filmmakers who had once worked with Kevin Spacey made it clear he’d never hire him again and wished he could undo his casting choice. I concur. As a producer, I would not hire or work with any of those outed by #MeToo, though I would still consider each decision individually and on gut instinct, not on social media outrage.
Years ago, I ignored my instincts. I conducted an interview with James Toback, despite having heard stories of his creepy come-ons to aspiring actresses and offers of roles in exchange for rolls in the hay. I regret speaking with him without confronting him. I will never make such a mistake again.
Yet, I have also spent time teaching storytelling to the incarcerated and ex-offenders and am a firm believer in second chances or, more accurately, evaluating individuals for who they are, not what they did. Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby refuse accountability for their actions, thus are damnable in my eyes. I know convicted murderers I consider better people because they have admitted their guilt and strive to make amends.
There is a pretty fat line between alleged lech and actual rapist. As a victim myself, I feel comfortable drawing the distinction. And, like any self-respecting New York Jew, I judge others, but I don’t presume to pass judgment for others. I am leery of mandating punishments or calling for blanket boycotts. Justice is as personal and as varied as the crimes of today’s transgressors.
As sexual assault survivors have come forward with their experiences of trauma, our society has grappled with — and so far has not concluded — what to do about the perpetrators.
Instead of seeing a perpetrator as an indiscriminate, monstrous shadow looming in the background, we now see him in true form. This is the person who may be funny and charming and light up a room. This is the person known to us, with whom we as a community have built a trusting relationship. A person who then exploits this relationship and utilizes his powerful status to sexually harm others.
The vast majority of the time, those who sexually abuse take advantage of an established and trusting relationship. This presentation of trustworthiness not only provides the cover for violence, but it also immediately shuts down real conversations about accountability.
The fact that the narrative has, in many ways, shifted to focus on powerful men, as opposed to the people they harmed, is reflective of the problem. Society is uncomfortable seeing consequences for our known, loved figures precisely because they have the power to be known and loved. In contrast, the consequences of trauma for the countless people who have experienced abuse exist out of the spotlight.
Within Jewish Family Service’s Counseling and Domestic Violence Advocacy Program, we intimately witness the years of trauma that follow an assault. But because the survivors of these assaults are less known and less powerful, their pain is less visible. Perhaps when people find themselves asking, for instance, “are we being too harsh to Bill Cosby’s legacy?” it’s time to wonder why the conversation has so quickly shifted away from the experiences and realities of those he has harmed.