Over a month later, the Harvey Weinstein scandal is still sparking conversations and, perhaps, even a cultural shift regarding sexual harassment. We hope its social change extends to campuses.
The recent surge of allegations against powerful men in Hollywood has ignited a new, worldwide awareness of sexual harassment and violence. Victims' stories have dominated the news and manifested on social media as “#MeToo.”
This new wave of action against powerful, predatory figures in Hollywood is a vital step in addressing the prevalence of sexual assault. It has led to unprecedented levels of accountability — no longer will the usual celebrity hand-waving suffice. Most importantly, a conversation about an uncomfortable, yet prevalent issue has started.
Many are speculating that the Harvey Weinstein scandal could change our society's culture for good. There's been staff turnover in companies from Amazon to Nickelodeon, and men and women across all industries are voicing their support and sharing their own stories of sexual harassment — perhaps an indication of wider social acceptance and recognition of victims.
We hope this culture shift also extends to campuses. Many stories have come out about how some universities in North America are mishandling sexual assault cases. In Ontario, some think universities' province-mandated sexual violence policies could go further.
However, it’s hard to know whether what's happening in Hollywood will translate to change on university campuses. Sex crimes, fundamentally, are about power, and power operates very differently in Hollywood. Women like Gwyneth Paltrow are speaking, materially, from a position of privilege that most of us couldn’t dream of — she's well equiped to deal with any fallout from her decision to speak out: Hollywood actors and big-shot executives can afford the costs of litigation.
The rest of us average folks, students included, are on shakier ground. Women who come forward about sexual assault are often dicredited, blamed or socially ostracized on the public stage, and most don’t have a million-dollar safety net to fall back on. On campuses, those accused of sexual assault have more to lose than Hollywood moguls.
One major issue here is how ill-equipped the justice system is to deal with cases of sexual assault. Powerful figures have the resources to overcome this systemic fault, but most of us can’t afford it — it’s hard to champion justice when the courts rarely dispense it in sexual violence cases. A long-term goal, and one direction for the energy generated by the Hollywood scandal, is judicial reform.
Short-term, though, the harassment scandals in Hollywood have lead to conversation and awareness: the spotlight is finally on a problem that has, for so long, stayed in the shadows. These stories may not have a significant impact on how campuses deal with sexual assault, but they will have a net positive effect on how we talk about it.
It's a first step. For one thing, these celebrity accounts highlight how prevalent and systemic sex crimes are. If this happens in the upper echelons of Hollywood, it also happens in our own, humbler spheres; it's worth talking about on university campuses.