By JOHN LYNCH
The last four months (at time of publication) have yielded a bevy of terrible allegations of sexual assault against members of both the Hollywood and Washington elite, with hundreds of women coming forward to accuse famed actors, producers, and politicians of sexual assault. Following several firings, apologies, and falls from grace, the unprecedented accusations have rocked those of celebrity status in America. This recent spate of allegations began in October, when the New York Times published a story detailing multiple accounts, now including over fifty women following the initial report, of sexual assault by producing giant Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein, then head of Miramax films, denied all allegations, but the damage was done.
As more celebrities and women came forth with their stories, their accounts gave credence to the sexual assault conversation required for more accusations to come forth. Since Weinstein’s firing, famous actors and producers including Louis CK, Ben Affleck, Kevin Spacey, Andrew Kreisberg, Brett Ratner, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lasseter, Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer have all been accused by coworkers, costars, and associates of sexual misconduct. On the Hill, Senator Al Franken, Alabama candidate Roy Moore, and Representative John Conyers have all been accused of harassment. These formerly untouchable men have faced the repercussions- CK, Spacey, Kreisberg, Tambor, Rose, and Lauer all were fired, asked to leave their shows, or replaced, and Sen. Franken and Moore have received criticism from both major parties. But here’s the problem: For the most part, no actual charges have been brought against these predatory men.
So why is the lack of criminal proceedings troubling in these cases? Firstly, it strips the accusations of actual validity. All the firings in the world may keep these people off movie sets and out of political discussions, but the fact remains that the accused will still be free to continue doing whatever they please. The missing prosecutions means that the penalty appears less severe to would-be assailants, so the deterrent to committing crimes like assault carries less weight. Sure, exposure of such a terrible crime may hurt the careers of plenty of celebrities, but without lasting repercussions, the accusations are unable to carry any lasting severity. Because if Casey Affleck can be nominated for an Oscar just six years after two sexual assault lawsuits in 2010, anything is possible for the ever-resourceful straight white celebrity.
More importantly, though, is the role model problem. Celebrities, in the literal sense of the word, are not necessarily good people, but simply people of great renown. The modern celebrity has changed that definition to encompass the duty of serving as a role model. As the importance of retaining an individual fan base has increased for figures of fame, so too has the effect of a follower styling themself after their role model. Should a celebrity excuse their own crimes, so too could any follower who thinks that such behavior, as ordained by a celebrity, is acceptable.
All told, these accusations must be taken seriously by the public and authority figures who could ensure that the crimes of sexual assault are not perpetrated by these men again. Most importantly, exposing these criminals -and they are criminals if the accusations are true- should not be seen by fans of these mens’ past work as a situation where entertainment takes priority over crimes. “Oh no, what about House of Cards?!?” should not be an excuse for a person’s crimes. Celebrity or not, the horrific crime of sexual assault should never go unpunished, even if it means buring the systems that allowed it down.