“Allen, Weinstein and Richardson - is society finally waking up to sexual abuse?”

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Susan Devaney
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Not a single month has passed since 2011 where on some idle weekday I haven’t thought of her.  

The young woman from Wales who took on one of the world’s most God-like human beings: a famous footballer. Just like you or I, she did what she thought was the right thing, by going to the police to report a sexual crime she alleged happened in her hometown after a night out.

She had no memory of the night, and the prosecution put forward that she was not in a position to give consent. Evans, meanwhile, admitted lying to get a key card to the hotel room she was in, admitted having not spoken to her before, during or after the incident, and left via a fire exit. He and his friend maintained they’d had consensual sex with her.

He was convicted; then the conviction was overturned on appeal, after the court allowed intimate details from former sexual partners to be taken into account. His friend got off scot-free.

And what onslaught of verbal abuse was she then faced with?

Her name was illegally slandered over social media platforms – because how dare she accuse Ched Evans, a footballer, of such a thing? She should have worn trousers, not a skirt. She should have drank water, not alcohol. She should have stayed silent.

Since then I’ve played over in my mind what I would have done had I been her. And I placed my own outcome into two categories: if he’s on a similar financial standing to me, I’ll see him in court. If he’s rich, I’ll think twice.

It’s something no man I know of has ever had to wrestle with in their mind.

But, no, not now – thanks to Harvey Weinstein.  

In recent weeks a systematic shift has happened across Hollywood, as the film industry’s power players and their social statuses (and big bank balances) have started to crumble.

It began when sexual harassment, abuse and rape allegations were made against Weinstein, in a story broken by The New York Times on 5 October. We witnessed women coming forward in droves – with actress Rose McGowan leading the way – to accuse the producer of abuse (the number of women both named and unnamed currently sits at 50). McGowan has since said she was offered $1 million (approximately £760,000) by “someone close to Weinstein” if she signed a non-disclosure agreement the day before the story broke.

Harvey Weinstein
Georgina Chapman and Harvey Weinstein married in 2007, but she has now left him.

Then other celebrities came forward to join the conversation – from Cara Delevingne and Kate Beckinsdale to Lena Headey – all publicly naming Weinstein and sharing their alleged stories in heartfelt accounts posted to social media.

We read their words and their vivid descriptions, and then something incredible happened: women – like you or I – turned around and said “me too”.

The celebrity realm suddenly shrunk; women’s stories became one.

Social media was lit with women coming forward and joining the conversation by sharing their own stories of sexual harassment with the hashtag #MeToo. Within 24 hours, 4.7 million people across the globe had shared their story with each other in some 12 million posts.

The symbolic hashtag was used more than one million times in Europe, the US, the Middle East and more, by spanning multiple languages – #balancetonporc, #YoTambien, and in Arabic, وأنا_كمان# and ‏وانا_ايضا#. 

As the world continues to dissect how Weinstein got away with such an abuse of power, one thing’s for sure: the bad man has been outed. Yes, he has denied non-consensual sex, but he also apologised for unspecified behaviour that “caused a lot of pain” and cited his ‘coming of age’ in the Sixties and Seventies “when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different” as mitigation – effectively admitting said behaviour would be, at the very least, unacceptable now.

But let’s get something straight: these women weren’t silent. They were silenced. Hollywood has always known about his attitude toward women because they did speak up, and they told the men around them, too. But through non-disclosure agreements and alleged fear for their careers, through financial means at the hands of the world’s most powerful individuals, their mouths were buttoned.

Will things change? The answer lies in the continuation of the conversation.

And it’s spreading.

Oscar-nominated director James Toback – who is best known for films Two Girls and a Guy and Tyson – has also been accused of inappropriate behaviour and misconduct which has left women feeling “violated”.

James Toback
Oscar-nominated director James Toback has been accused of sexual abuse by 38 women.

The Los Angeles Times claims that more than 200 women have came forward, detailing a catalogue of sexual abuse that spans the past 30 years.

The women have accused Toback of masturbating in front of them, rubbing his genitals up against them, asking inappropriate questions of a sexual nature and asking them to perform sexual acts in front of him.

Actress Selma Blair has added her voice to the conversation by saying the director suggested she would be killed if she spoke out about his abusive behaviour towards her back in 1999.

Speaking to Vanity Fair, Blair alleges that against her “better judgment”, she met Toback in his hotel room after he changed the location of a work meeting.

Once there, she says he pressured her into delivering a monologue while undressed and when she refused to have sex with him, Blair says Toback masturbated against her leg – forcing her to look at him as he did so.

And fellow actress Rachel McAdams has joined her. In the same Vanity Fair article, McAdams says she also had a disturbing experience in a hotel room with Toback, describing herself as “very lucky” to have left without being assaulted.

She claims the director told her, “I have masturbated countless times today thinking about you since we met at your audition.” She also says he left her in the bedroom to go to the bathroom, and told her he had just masturbated.

Toback denies all the claims against him.

The voices have spread to the world of fashion, pointing the finger at world-renowned photographer Terry Richardson. A leaked email was allegedly circulated to staff throughout the publishing house of Condé Nast last week, stating that work already commissioned from Richardson but not yet published should be “killed or substituted with other material”, The Telegraph reported. Fashion brands Valentino and Bulgari, and fashion magazine Porter, swiftly followed suit.

Terry Richardson
Fashion brands Valentino and Bulgari, and fashion magazine Porter have dropped the photographer.

Richardson has been dogged with rumours about his inappropriate sexual behaviour during photo shoots since 2001. It has been claimed that Richardson regularly forced young female models into compromising positions, sometimes pressuring them into performing sexual acts on him.

Richardson, for his part, has not denied the sexual activity that is said to have taken place at his shoots. His argument has always rested on the notion of consent. That his shoots “were sexual and explicit in nature but all of the subjects of his work participated consensually.” That his models had the same degree of control over the situation as he, the world-famous photographer, the influencer of high fashion, the man who could make someone’s career.

The stories have flown for years, but only now are brands distancing themselves from him.

The newly boosted conversation has reached Hollywood film-maker Woody Allen.

According to IndieWire, Allen’s new film features a sexual relationship between a 15-year-old girl and an adult. Thanks to fellow film-maker Judd Apatow – known for Trainwreck, This Is 40 and Knocked Up – Allen’s name is back in the headlines. Taking to Twitter, Apatow said he was “sad” that Allen was “obsessed with all these young actresses”.

He was responding to Allen’s comments on Weinstein, in which he said he felt “sad” for everyone involved, saying “[It is] tragic for the poor women that were involved, sad for Harvey that [his] life is so messed up”.

Allen, whose wife Mia Farrow left him after discovering his affair with her then-21-year-old daughter, has long stood accused of sexual assault by his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Farrow’s accusations were investigated in 1993 and Allen wasn’t charged, due to the fragility of the child witness. The judge said he could not conclude what had happened, but did state “Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and [...] measures must be taken to protect her.”

Many women wonder if there’s any point in reporting sexual abuse at all.

Woody Allen
Woody Allen with his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, who was previously his adopted daughter.

But take a moment and look at the women around you now.

Look at how we’re not whispering our own accounts. We’re opening a dialogue. And there’s a very good reason why women this season are dressing in red. To some, our fashion may be frivolous, but women wearing red ensembles are all saying one thing: we’re on fire, wildfire – and it’s spreading.

The Weinstein allegations are still coming: in recent days, actresses Annabella Sciorra and Daryl Hannah have spoken out. Talking to Ronan Farrow, the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, in the NYT, Sciorra alleges she was raped by him, and Hannah speaks of having to barricade “herself in her [hotel] room using furniture” to get away from the film-maker.

Weinstein’s wife has left him, and his company has deserted him. His first film released since the sexual allegations came to light, Amityville: The Awakening, grossed just $742 (£566) in total over its opening weekend in America.

Big fashion brands and well-respected publications have dropped Richardson. Toback faces a growing number of allegations. Big names are publicly denouncing Woody Allen.

As we head into another month, it’s starting to feel like every day brings a fresh allegation. In recent days, the number of sexual allegations made against these powerhouses has continued to climb, but new names have been added into the fold too. Actresses Heather Lind and Jordana Grolnick have made allegations of sexual assault against George HW Bush – the former President of the US. Five women have made sexual harassment allegations against Mark Halperin, the NBC and MSNBC analyst. He’s issued a public apology to the women, and NBC has terminated his contract.

Even our Prime Minister, Theresa May, is now urging her staff to come forward to report sexual harassment, as claims have been made about Westminster. Commons leader Andrea Leadsom is due to make a statement in due course about proposed plans on how to deal with such claims going forward.

But the next time I think of her – the young woman from Wales – I’ll think of all the other women in recent weeks who’ve bravely refused to be silenced any longer or be “shunted to the side”.

And I’ll continue the conversation as we all head for change – together.

Images: Rex Features / Getty