[November 2017] Hollywood sexual harassment lawsuits spotlight issue

Daniel Harizman ’19

Both motion picture industry icon Harvey Weinstein and film director James Toback have been publicly accused of sexual harassment by dozens of women since Oct. 5, 2017. Weinstein, part time Westport resident and co-founder/former Chief Executive Officer of Miramax film company, has had over 80 women make allegations of rape, harassment or sexual assault against him. Similarly, more than 30 women have come out against Toback, according to Newsweek and the New York Times.

“[The Harvey Weinstein scandal] is a serious reminder that sexual harassment/assault still persists as a part of American culture. It’s disheartening to realize how many women stay silent after being harassed,” Peri Kessler ’18 said. “I really hope our society will move towards making women and men feel more supported by pressing charges on their harassers/assailants in the wake of this scandal.”

Approximately 54 percent of American women have had “experiences of unwanted sexual advances,” according to a recent study conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post. Of those, about 23 percent said the advances came from an individual who had control over their employment situation.

The social media campaign, #metoo, originally created by Tarana Burke in 1997, was revived by victims of sexual harassment as more women came forward with harassment accusations against Weinstein.

“I think the [#metoo campaign] is so important because it really brings awareness to this overlooked issue that needs to be addressed,” Emerson Kobak ’18, a student who posted in support of the campaign, said. “Many people do not even know that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted because such behavior has become so normalized.”

The Weinstein and Toback scandals have generated a discussion among members of the community at Staples, exploring the reality of sexual relationships involving students. Maria Maisonet ’19 believes “it’s a lot more common for girls to be victim to rumors or harassment,” additionally stating that men are usually the individuals in control within heterosexual relationships at Staples High School.

“A lot of learned behavior of how to act in relationships comes from media and the things we see on television or online,” Maisonet said. “Girls need to be held at the same respect as boys and biased and sexist standards need to be abolished.
There needs to be more education on what is acceptable behavior as well as creating an environment where girls and boys alike can flourish.”

Maisonet is one of the presidents of Survivors to Thrivers, a Staples club that “focuses on educating the community on healthy relationships and behaviors as well as providing support and aide to those going through harassment or abuse,” Maisonet said.

At Staples, along with any other school that receives government funding, sexual harassment is covered under Title IX, an education law which is part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX extends further than gender equality between female and male sports; much of its focus surrounds sexual harassment of any form.

In the 2016-2017 academic school year at Staples, Assistant Principal Richard Franzis dealt with eight reported cases of sexual harassment.

“My job is not to determine whether or not a person is guilty under the law; my job is to try and ascertain what happened, piece it together and prevent any further harassment here at school,” Franzis said. “Coming forward is a hard thing. There are a wide range of emotions with coming forward. It’s very personal.”

According to a study conducted by the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice, approximately one in 10 women will have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse by their high school graduation.
“[Sexual harassment] is a culture that has existed from the beginning of time. The cliché, the casting couch where the young actress would come in and the powerful producer would take total advantage of them, was just something that existed,” a well-renowned Westport male psychologist, who requested not to be named, said.

“Everybody now has a voice, a voice that can reach a lot of people. That’s what has changed things significantly.”
As the Staples community pushes forward in the 2017-2018 academic school year, student outreach counselor, Edward Milton, hopes substantial change can be made with regard to the issue of sexual harassment.

“We haven’t taken away the stigma from sexual abuse and harassment,” Milton said. “It’s about power and control. Once the stigma begins to disappear, I think people will be able to address the issue on a larger scale.”