As 2017 has now exited let us all take a group exhale and attempt to relax as we bid farewell to this tumultuous year. Unfortunately, unlike a bad hangover, the nation can’t simply slam a bottle of Pedialyte and hope for a speedy recovery. Bizarre as it may seem, yes Donald Trump actually is still President of the United States.
Before 2018 truly gets rolling, this is an excellent moment to take an objective look back at the year’s top story, as 2017 was full of monumental events besides the toxicity of Trumpism.
The easy way out would be to cede 2017 to Trump. It’s not unfounded. His swearing-in to office was curious, like his claim about crowd sizes; there remains the historic low approval rating for a first term president; Charlottesville; the insipid tweets; the lying; the Russia investigation; Trump’s attacks on intelligence organizations and law enforcement in general; the president’s inability to make coherent sense; the record-setting staff turnover during the first year of a new presidency; the dismantling of the State Department; several criminal indictments of Trump confidants; Roy Moore; tax cuts; etc…
I will stop there. The man is just not worth the oxygen he breathes.
Natural disasters played a starring role in 2017. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated huge swaths of humanity and infrastructure from the Caribbean, to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and Texas, causing notable loss of life. Additionally, drought conditions and high winds created the perfect conditions for massive wildfires across California.
Violence was another significant chapter in 2017. A lone gunman opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas killing 58 people, a record-setting number of deaths for a single mass shooting event (10.01.17); in Charlottesville, VA, at a “Unite the Right” rally for white supremacists and white nationalists, three died and dozens were injured (08.12.17); eight casualties were recorded when a man drove a rented pick-up truck down a crowded bike path in New York City (10.31.17); and a gunman entered the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX, slaughtering 26 parishioners (11.05.17).
Trump, natural disasters and violence across America all make worthy cases to be the top entry, but it’s the victims of sexual harassment that ranks as the widest-reaching and most impactful revelation of 2017, as this epidemic continues to unfold.
This story ballooned into the public consciousness in October after the New York Times exposed movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, of Miramax and The Weinstein Group fame, as a rapist and serial sexual harasser. Some 84 women have come forward to level accusations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein, who is well-known for abusive tirades and physical altercations, along with a fondness for walking around semi-nude trying to charm, bribe, cajole and force subordinates into sexual encounters.
This revelation alone is remarkable in its repudiation of an abusive gatekeeper capable of making or hindering aspiring careers, but as the number of female accusers escalated an interesting thing happened. The #MeToo hashtag spread virally on Twitter, bringing millions of women into the conversation by their retweeting of this rallying cry to signify how they too had been victims of sexual harassment.
Then the floodgates opened in boardrooms, newsrooms, concert halls and gymnasiums across the nation. Suddenly no longer were the dirty little secrets of sexual misconduct being kept for rich and powerful men. Giants of industry tumbled into embarrassing piles of disgraced rubble.
Decades of ignoring women’s claims about hostile work environments or sweeping the allegations under the carpet were met by a sea change of holding men accountable. As the particulars of these various allegations leaked out it became clear organizations knew of these perpetrators’ misdeeds and several paid women significant sums of money in return for signing non-disclosure agreements to secure their silence.
What seemed at first shocking in scope was quickly re-evaluated through the lens of thousands of #MeToo retweets, and unending revelations of grisly misdeeds committed against household names. Women were not surprised by the scope. They knew all too well about this pervasive harassment and discrimination.
Victims had been trying to get the word out, but the collective public failed to listen, remaining blind to the vile behavior that lurked beneath these successful men. Nobody wanted to believe or deal with such an inconvenient truth, but as this disturbing reality crystalized, the details in these attacks revealed darker peculiarities and depravity.
Bill Cosby was considered America’s dad. He was Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, the man behind The Cosby Show, a cutting edge comic and social commentator who had a secret penchant for drugging and raping women, only to then attempt to play off the assaults like they were somehow consensual.
Comedian Louis C.K.stripped in front of two female fellow comedians invited to his hotel room after their show and started masturbating. That was not an isolated incident.
Former CBS This Morning co-host Charlie Rose was accused by eight women of unwanted sexual advances, including allegations of lewd phone calls, walking around in their presence naked, and groping their breasts, buttocks or genital areas.
Former Today show co-host Matt Lauer had a remote door lock button installed at his desk so he could bolt his office door without women’s knowledge, trapping them inside a confined space. Lauer then would drop his pants to female employees, exposing his penis and expect sexual acts to be performed; he sent sex toys to staffers with personal notes describing how he imagined using the devices on these women; and raped one producer in his office.
Failed Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore trolled malls and courthouses looking for vulnerable teenagers, one as young as 14, to have sexual encounters with when he served as an assistant district attorney in his 30s.
And let us not forget President Donald Trump. He has admitted that he purposely crept around private dressing room areas of his beauty pageants to ogle young contestants in varying degrees of undress and nakedness. He also finds it appropriate to grab women by the pussy because he can get away with it since he is famous, or so he espoused on the Access Hollywood video tape.
None of these behaviors are normal. These are not the actions taken by men to gain the attention of females they find attractive in hopes of taking them out on a date. Weinstein actually took the time, energy and thought to employ a goon-squad specifically dedicated to attacking and discrediting targets of his abuse, to keep them quiet or persuade their silence.
It can’t be overstated how daunting and courageous it was for all the women who came forward against these powerful men of industry before the public consciousness established a belief structure that their guilt was a possibility. Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Salma Hayek (among others) refused to back down against Harvey Weinstein, or his supporters who also were perpetrators or silent observers.
Rachael Denhollander was not known widely, yet she walked bravely into a forum to file the initial lawsuit against Dr. Larry Nassar, the sports-medicine physician for Team USA Gymnastics, who it turns out assaulted some 150 people, earning him a 60-year prison sentence.
And this conversation cannot be had without acknowledging Anita Hill, who shouldered the spotlight in 1991, the responsibility, scorn, and disbelief of a Congress full of old white men, to stand with dignity and testify unequivocally about the harassment she suffered at the hands of Justice Clarence Thomas.
Now big name victims and A-list abusers have captured headlines, and that notoriety paved the way for thousands of women to come out and acknowledge the abuse they too suffered, but these instances remain only the tip of the iceberg.
The 2016 Uniform Crime Report (UCR), which measures rapes that are known to police, estimated that there were 90,185 rapes reported to law enforcement in 2015. The 2016 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which measures sexual assaults and rapes that may not have been reported to the police, found that there were 431,840 incidents of rape or sexual assault in 2015. While the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reported on average there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
The great injustice remains the prolific under-reporting of rape and sexual abuse in America. Whether because the attacker is someone the victim knows, the embarrassment, or perhaps just the stigma that comes with discussing such a personal violation – thousands are left to suffer in the shadows of obscurity because they don’t feel comfortable reporting this crime.
Who stands for the women that speak little to no English that endure constant harassment in meat packing plants or other dim factory jobs, where co-workers and supervisors dangle the threat of firing and possible deportation unless these women sleep with them.
Or waitresses in any truck stop across the nation who absorb the snide remarks, pinches on their behinds and threats of dismissal from men who objectify them daily. In one of the most highly under-reported crime statistics in the country, untold thousands of high school and college-age females grapple yearly with the humiliation and wavering support structures set up to assist with reporting date rapes.
It’s about the everyday female office worker that must put up with the endless harassment and flirtations from boorish males who hold supervisory roles enabling them to derail promising careers. Oftentimes male managers will routinely pass off ideas as their own that in reality were stolen from women they supervise – refusing out of spite or fear to acknowledge female contributions. Or seeing deserving females passed over for promotion when they reject sexual advances from males, only to watch less capable men get elevated in retribution.
Immediate supervisors and internal human resources departments have habitually failed women, as harassment complaints fall on deaf ears. Cronyism or ‘The Old Boy’s Network’ is tough to break through, and once a female opens the door to a complaint she finds herself susceptible to retribution, blackballing and termination.
Simply hear the stories of women trying to break through glass ceilings in Silicon Valley and the resistance they’ve encountered in supposed enlightened environments, or female soldiers trying to report sexual harassment in the military.
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Anyone waiting for Congress to act is sadly mistaken. There is no imminent justice from Congress because the Hill is littered with serial adulterers. Current members, former elected officials and staff are sitting on their collective hands hoping their sins don’t blow back on them. The yard marks set by super-rats like John F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Strom Thurmond, Bob Backwood, and Bill Clinton to name a few are being carried forward by several new political operatives that include President Trump.
As women in Congress shared their #MeToo stories it was uncovered that Congress had its own sexual harassment slush fund. From 2008 to 2012, Congress paid out $174,000 from a U.S. Treasury fund to settle claims of sexual harassment and sex discrimination against offices of the House of Representatives.
This was a small fraction of the more than $17 million in settlements paid out over the past 20 years by the Office of Compliance, the agency responsible for handling workplace complaints in Congress.
Washington as an entity couldn’t be better set up to facilitate harassment. DC is the land of plenty. The national government, military apparatus, international embassies and legal empires are intermingled with plentiful jobs, money, clubs, restaurants, high-end strip joints, A-list hotels and a culture built on keeping secrets.
Virtually nobody that works in Washington is from there. Lacking roots to anchor one to a home-grown identity, tribes are left as the means to assign personality and a supposed moral compass to new arrivals. Similar to like when one first goes away to college and finding an identity is crucial for establishing a sense of place on campus. In DC it’s tribes – Republicans, Democrats, hired guns that are non-partisan lobbyists or political pros, think tankers, journalists, educators, watchdog groups, non-profits, and then there are the wolves – attorneys, vapid and soulless, who care only to bill fees and feast on the remains of the less prosperous.
Finding a tribe is essential for young DC staffers seeking to define a professional identity. These hard-charging 20-somethings will walk through walls for their tribal leaders. Yet things get confusing when susceptible young women are placed under the thumbs of elected officials wielding intoxicating power. These male lawmakers work far away from home and family, where married lives are too often a distant second reality.
Plenty of harmless hookups ensue amongst ambitious colleagues in this intense work hard/play hard atmosphere, but the deck is heavily stacked toward members of Congress, political appointees, and senior staff who hold sway. Expensive white tablecloth dinners in secluded restaurants or invites to private embassy affairs easily impress and can quickly turn into a negotiating quid pro quo tool to leverage sexual favors in return for professional advancement.
Simply observe the pageantry known as “intern season” that overtakes DC in the spring for a true ‘sheep being led to the slaughter’ illustration. An ambitious 22-year old Monica Lewinsky is a fine example of what frequently occurs. The arrival of “new talent” migrating into DC for the summer could be looked upon as sex trafficking.
Each year impressionable do-gooders ranging in age from late teens to 20-somethings flood DC to gain experience on the Hill, in governmental agencies, trade associations and law firms. Some hail from big cities, but a vast number are small town kids, and DC is their first visit to a major city. The pit of vipers already familiar with the game in the nation’s capital has a distinct advantage.
Members and staff that seemed fatherly back in local state districts are treated like gods in Washington, where their appetites and hubris are welcomely displayed. Favors are currency in Washington, and members hold jobs in their pockets like rare priceless jewels. With graduation near, ambitious young women desperately seek to get their tickets punched to an exotic life in DC. For some congressmen the allure proves impossible to resist of leveraging the command they hold over these young girls’ futures against their exploitation for sexual favors.
Promiscuity is no crime, but consent is essential, and not the coerced version. There can’t be a power angle at play, where a superior is expecting a female staffer to blow him in order to gain permanent employment or advancement.
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With vast evidence of sexual abuse and harassment documented in the military, Roman Catholic Church, national and local political establishments, law enforcement agencies, the medical community, court system, entertainment industry and news organizations, where has America’s moral character gone wrong? How is it possible that a bigoted, xenophobic, race-baiting, serial sex abuser like Donald Trump was elected president?
Moral character matters, and one of the more disturbing aspects of the sexual abuse scandal in America is that many culprits are gatekeepers or supposed protectors in their respective industries. These men should have served as mentors but betrayed this responsibility to instead become roadblocks.
While these ongoing revelations of sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement have changed the narrative of how victims are treated in professional and cultural settings, it would be foolish to believe the fight is won.
Harvey Weinstein remains a free man. His only punishment thus far is exile from the movie industry and a cold shoulder from Hollywood. Don’t negate the possibility that power brokers in America could look upon this transcendent moment as only a ripple in time, when a few overzealous lions went too far.
Some longtime members of ‘The Old Boys’ Network are being sacrificed as a result, but once the spotlight fades the fight remains for women. This is a precedent-setting moment for women’s rights and hopefully a game-changer in affording them more equal footing in the workplace – but watch for organizations to attempt a return to business as usual.
We are in this together, men and women. It’s up to us to pivot and make the necessary adjustments in how we conduct ourselves between one another in public and private. If society will carry through with this momentum to not tolerate ‘boys will be boys’ behavior, at the very least it narrows the avenues where men can get away with sexual harassment, and makes it more likely they will be held accountable for this criminal behavior.
There is no reason to fear the rising power of women. Instead embrace it. Women are the embodiment of God on this planet, as the giver of life. It’s crippling to our evolution as a society to look upon women as perfectly responsible to populate our planet, yet somehow inferior in terms of valuing their ideas and authority in the same manner as we do a male.
As Bob Dylan famously sang, “The Times They Are A-Changing.” It’s a never-ending circumstance, and it’s incumbent upon us as a society to recognize the light being shined upon the issues of harassment and sexual abuse for the positive nature it represents. Otherwise we all stand to fail as a result.
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Below is a select roster of headline-catching male perpetrators accused of harassment and abuse:
Ben Affleck (Actor); Casey Affleck (Actor); Roger Ailes (Co-creator Fox News); Woody Allen; Joe Alexander (Former Chief Creative Officer at The Martin Agency); Tom Ashbrook (Journalist); Ken Baker (Author); Andre Balazs (Hotelier); Joe Barton (U.S. Rep.); Mario Batali (Chef); John Besh (Chef); David Blaine (Magician); Eric Bolling (Fox News); George H.W. Bush; Bill Clinton; Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys); Stephen Collins (Actor); John Conyers, Jr. (U.S. Rep.); Bill Cosby (Comedian); Eric Davis (Football); Johnny Depp (Actor); Andy Dick (Comedian); Richard Dreyfuss; Heath Evans (Football); Blake Farenthold (U.S. Rep.); Marshall Faulk (Football); Hamilton Fish (President/Publisher of The New Republic); Al Franken (Comedian and former senator); Trent Franks (U.S. Rep.); Mel Gibson (Actor); Mark Halperin (Journalist); Jon Heely (Director of Music Publishing/Disney); Eric Alexander Hewitt (Musician/Professor-Boston Conservatory); John Hockenberry (Host, Public Radio, The Takeaway); Dustin Hoffman; Jeff Hoover (Rep. KY State Legislature); Israel Horovitz (playwright and father of Beastie Boy Adam ); Dylan Howard (Chief Content Officer @ American Media); Cade Hudson (Agent); Johnny Iuzzini (Pastry Chef); Dan Johnson (Rep. KY State Legislature/Suicide); Ethan Kath (Musician-Crystal Castles); Garrison Keillor; R. Kelly (Musician); Ted Kennedy; Ruben Kihuen (U.S. Rep.); Robert Knepper (Actor); Alex Kozinski (U.S. Appeals Court Judge); Andrew Kreisberg (Producer – Warner Bros./The CW); Knight Landesman (Publisher); John Lasseter (Head of Pixar/Walt Disney Animation Studios); Matt Lauer (TV News Anchor); James Levine (Music Director, Metropolitan Opera); Ryan Lizza (Writer/New Yorker); Louie C.K. (Comedian); Danny Masterson (Actor); Donovan McNabb (Football); Rick Najera (Actor/Writer/Producer); Larry Nassar (USA Gymnastics); Bill O’Reilly (Fox News); Michael Oreskes (NPR’s Senior VP of New and Editorial Director); Bob Packwood; Shervin Pishevar (Co-founder of Sherpa Capital/Uber Investor); Jeremy Piven (Actor); Roman Polanski (Director); Roy Price (Amazon Studios > Worked closely with Weinsteins); Brett Ratner (Director/Producer); Terry Richardson (Photographer); Geraldo Rivera; Rich Rodriguez (Football); Charlie Rose (TV Host-CBS This Morning); Andy Rubin (Creator of Android, CEO of phone startup Essential); Chris Savino (Nickelodeon creator of The Loud House); Dan Schoen (D-MN State Senate); Robert Scoble (Former Microsoft/Tech Blogger/Tech Evangelist); Steven Seagal; Bill Shine (Co-president Fox News); Russell Simmons, Def Jam; Bryan Singer (Movie Director); Tom Sizemore; Tavis Smiley (Talk Show Host); Kevin Spacey; Morgan Spurlock; Lockhart Steele (Editorial Director/Vox Media); Lorin Stein (Editor/The Paris Review); Oliver Stone (Director); David Sweeney (NPR Chief News Editor); Ike Taylor (Football); Glenn Thrush (NY Times Reporter); Strom Thurmond; James Toback (Director/Writer); Donald Trump; Bruce Weber (Photographer); Bob Weinstein (Executive Producer); Harvey Weinstein (Miramax/The Weinstein Company); Eric Weinberger (Bill Simmons Media Group); Leon Wieseltier (Author/Literary Critic/Editor); Jann Wenner (Publisher-Rolling Stone); and Ed Westwick (Actor-Gossip Girl).