Ayesha Hazarika: The next phase of #MeToo is to address harmful silencing of victims

The Justice and Equality Fund has awarded over £1 million to help women who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse (AFP/Getty Images)

I highly recommend a new film, She Said, about how Harvey Weinstein was exposed and brought down in 2017. It’s a reminder of that huge moment and how it turbocharged the #MeToo movement (created by Tarana Burke in 2006).

The film is a story of female courage from the speaking actresses, including Ashley Judd, to New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who scrambled to get the story to print. But two other key figures are Zelda Perkins and Rowena Chiu, who worked for Weinstein. She sexually assaulted Chiu at the Venice Film Festival and Perkins confronted him about it. Both have paid a heavy price.

I interviewed them recently and they are two of the most inspiring and courageous women I have ever met. They filed a complaint and took it to older folks at Miramax and after denials and a lot of gaslighting a settlement was eventually offered. Part of the conditions they were asking was that something be done about Weinstein’s behavior. They then had to sign the most punishing and restrictive non-disclosure agreement (NDA). They were only in their 20s and not even allowed to speak to their doctor, therapist, police or family members.

There is a scene in the film where even Chiu’s husband didn’t know that his wife was attacked because she couldn’t tell him. These NDAs effectively buy silence and cover up what is going on in an organization.

50-year-old Ashley Judd was told she could only proceed with a defamation lawsuit against Weinstein (Getty Images)

50-year-old Ashley Judd was told she could only proceed with a defamation lawsuit against Weinstein (Getty Images)

The film sheds light on how difficult it is to expose systemic wrongdoing when dealing with an individual as powerful as Weinstein. The actresses who spoke out were blacklisted. The women who worked for him and reported him were silenced through non-disclosure agreements and their careers were over.

Ultimately Weinstein failed. Eighty-three women have come forward and he is serving 23 years in prison. But all of the women involved have paid a heavy price with their careers, mental health and relationships. And Perkins and Chiu told me this kind of abuse and cover-up continues today. They are campaigning to stop the use of non-disclosure agreements, which they say make victims complicit in the concealment of systemic wrongdoing. I agree. In cases of sexual harassment or other types of egregious behavior, why should victims be gagged? Making a problem disappear is not solving it.

    (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Yesterday, senior journalists and editors wrote to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab to advocate for a new law to address how the powerful use strategic lawsuits against public participation (known as Slapps) to shut down investigations. Monsters like Weinstein exist in positions of power in all areas of society: politics, media, entertainment, sports, business.

It’s all too easy to be disgusted by their grotesque behavior. What we need is real change. And that means stopping men from using their money and power to silence their victims and the press.

In other news..

The latest census data for 2021 shows that for the first time, less than half of the population of England and Wales describe themselves as Christian. Cue the usual hysterical nonsense. Apparently, Christmas has been canceled and Santa’s beard looks suspiciously Islamic.

As a non-practicing Muslim, I was reminded of the positive power of religion on Monday evening at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in Guildhall, where Archbishop Justin Welby addressed an audience that included Rishi Sunak. He told the story of two leaders. One works to improve himself, the other for his community. Both may be “great”, but what separates them is virtue and good character.

    (Getty Images for Hamleys)

(Getty Images for Hamleys)

Wise words. Religion can be such a positive force. But beware of those who weaponize these types of stats to sow division. People who tweet about the “fall of Christianity” tweet are also freezing over hungry children or the rise of food banks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *