Why don’t more women come forward when they experience sexual harassment and even assault in the workplace? Lots of reasons exist, as we’re discovering over the last few weeks — massive power imbalances, a lack of accountability structures, and especially the need to protect high-ranking offenders for economic purposes. Americans have an ingrained impulse to give the accused the benefit of doubt, an admirable quality that unfortunately all too often turns into a less-than-admirable impulse to smear potential victims and deny them the same benefit of doubt about their motives. Small wonder victims feel intimidated from speaking out, especially if they think they’re alone.
On top of that, women have a tough time figuring out who their friends will be if and when they blow the whistle. The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove reported earlier today that Ronan Farrow got a lot of attention from attorney Lisa Bloom when he began digging into Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults and harassment. At first, Bloom tried diverting his efforts into an esoteric look at non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), but changed tactics when Farrow resisted. Instead, Bloom — who claims to be a feminist activist — allegedly warned that she had dirt on actress Rose McGowan, one of Farrow’s sources, specifically about her sexual history:
Ronan Farrow was stunned and disgusted early this year when famed feminist lawyer Lisa Bloom phoned him, in the midst of his investigation for NBC News of widespread allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, and offered to share opposition research on one of Weinstein’s accusers.
“I don’t know if you’ve talked to Rose McGowan, but we have files on her and her… history,” Bloom told Farrow, according to knowledgeable sources inside and outside NBC.
If it’s true, it’s despicable. Bloom didn’t disclose her connections with Weinstein to Farrow until later in their interactions, according to Grove, but Farrow had already suspected it. Bloom had represented Weinstein, and also had a development deal in place for a limited-run series based on the Trayvon Martin case. Her representation of Weinstein was not a recent development, either. Grove’s sources tell him that Bloom, the daughter of feminist legal activist Gloria Allred, had been on Weinstein’s team since last year, and had helped bury a New York magazine piece on the Hollywood mogul.
When Farrow confided in Bloom about the direction of the story, the high-pressure onslaught began:
Farrow, himself an attorney and a member of the New York Bar, knew none of this when he ultimately acknowledged to Bloom that he was looking into Weinstein and swore her to secrecy, thinking he could count on their mutual respect for confidentiality as fellow officers of the court. After all, he had considered the self-styled civil-rights attorney, author, and ubiquitous cable TV guest a professional friend and ally. …
Yet no sooner had Farrow divulged to Bloom his interest in Weinstein than executives at NBC and Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency, Farrow’s professional representatives, began to receive a barrage of calls and letters, as the movie mogul (a longtime pal of NBC Universal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer and others at the company he’d done business with) sought to wield every ounce of leverage to stop Farrow’s investigation.
Weinstein attorney Charles Harder, Hulk Hogan’s former lawyer who famously helped bankrupt Gawker Media, was especially aggressive, threatening to sue Farrow personally, in what one recipient of Harder’s letters (which listed Bloom as his co-counsel) described as a campaign to discredit the messenger.
With friends like this, victims of harassment and assault don’t need enemies.
Assuming this report is true, let’s mull over just what this says about the odds faced by women in the workplace, especially in the media and entertainment industries. Both industries (and the latter especially) practically turn sexual license and excess into a superior moral philosophy. Yet when a woman like Rose McGowan tries to lift the lid off of non-consensual harassment and worse, the go-to smear to discredit McGowan and others like her is the threat to expose the consensual activity in which she’s engaged in her life — in accordance with the mores of the industry in which she works, whether one agrees with them or not. Because she chooses to engage in mutually agreeable sexual activity on her own terms, the argument presented to Farrow is that she’s no longer a credible witness or victim.
That hypocrisy is stunning — and when it’s being carried out by a supposed ally of women, the betrayal is even more stunning.
But let’s not kid ourselves that women only face daunting pressure to remain silent in the media or entertainment industries, or that sexual history is the only pressure point. Our friend Bethany Mandel offered lengthy thoughts in a tweetstorm this morning about her experiences in exposing a politically connected rabbi for sexual abuse, as Allahpundit also noted earlier today. Her testimony helped convict Barry Freundel, who had covertly videotaped undressed women preparing for a ritual bath in his facilities. When it came to another rabbi with a track record of sexual-harassment accusations, Mandel says it’s still the same:
Be sure to read it all.