A Grain Of Saul: Stopping Sexual Assault Is Not A Partisan Issue Or A Women's Issue. It's Up To All Of Us.

Many sexual assault stories have a troubling similarity: someone could have intervened.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

More and more women are reporting that Harvey Weinstein harassed or sexually assaulted them.

After an explosive piece in The New York Timeswhich cited several women's firsthand accounts of Weinstein's alleged "sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact," it appears the dam has broken. Yesterday, a piece in The New Yorker quoted nearly a dozen on the record firsthand accounts of Weinstein's harassment and sexual assault and included never-before-heard audio recordings from a New York Police Department sting operation in which Weinstein appears to admit to groping model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. 

Although Weinstein apologized in a statement for at least some of the behavior referenced in the New York Times article, he denied the sexual assault allegations following the New Yorker piece's release.


That piece, a gut-punch for anyone holding out hope the worst wasn't true, was notably written by journalist Ronan Farrow. Farrow is the estranged son of Woody Allen, another Hollywood magnate accused of sexual assault. Those allegations (which Allen denies) were made by his own daughter, Ronan's sister Dylan.

With so many accusers against Weinstein now on the record, including household names like Gwyneth Paltrow, Cara Delevingne and Angelina Jolie, all corners of the country are offering their hot takes in the discussion. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate reactions has been to politicize the story, as some conservative pundits have grasped onto Weinstein — a major Democratic donor Michelle Obama once publicly praised as a "wonderful human being" — as illustrative of rotten liberal America. 

But this isn't a uniquely Democratic problem. Fox News, a notoriously right-wing news outlet, has had to dismiss a slew of on-air talent because of sexual assault allegations. Our Republican president appeared to admit on tape to sexually assaulting women (and has also been photographed chumming it up with Weinstein).

The point being: this isn't a partisan or even a political issue. This is — largely — an issue with men, specifically men who yield any kind of power. The allegations leveled against Weinstein, Allen, Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Anthony Weiner and President Trump are not unique to Hollywood or a certain political party. It's not always famous and powerful men, either: it's the Catholic Church, Penn State football, orthodox Jews, professional athletes, universities, and your local retail store. The list goes on.

In many of the cases that have made national headlines, though, wealthy men in positions of significant power have leveraged their status to pressure or force women into sexual encounters. Those women are then shamed, threatened with lawsuits and silenced if they speak out. 

Trump with Miss Universe pageant winners.

Perhaps most unsettling about these stories is that there is almost always someone who could have stepped up and stopped the harassment or assault. In Farrow's story, he wrote that 16 former and current employees of Weinstein's companies had witnessed or had knowledge of unwanted sexual advances Weinstein made in work-related settings.

Sixteen! And that's just the number of current or former employees who happened to speak to Farrow. What about all the ones who didn't? What about the ones who were too scared to speak to a reporter?

Weinstein's case, again, isn't unique. In President Trump's infamous Hollywood Access tape, television host Billy Bush laughs off the notion that Trump could simply "grab women by the pussy" because he was a star. His supporters and advisers dismissed it as "locker room talk." Former Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly and former CEO Roger Ailes were repeatedly reported to human resources at Fox News and, reportedly, no action was taken. Football coach Joe Paterno was let go from Penn State because of what he may or may not have known about convicted rapist Jerry Sandusky. An entire film was made about the Catholic Church spending years trying to fend off reporters who wanted to get the truth out about rampant sexual abuse by priests. In many cases, campus rape stories include bystanders who don't intervene when a clearly intoxicated woman is taken home by a less intoxicated man.

People — especially men who are in positions of power — have the ability to step in and stop these stories from happening.

And we cannot forget that there are male survivors of sexual assault, and they are every bit as worth protecting. Terry Crews came out on Twitter to share a story about being assaulted by another man who allegedly grabbed his penis while Crews was standing next to his wife at a Hollywood function. 

Crews said he decided not to retaliate with allegations against the man because he didn't want to be ostracized, noting that "the predator has power and influence." Instead, he let it go, like many women do, because he couldn't stop asking himself if anyone believe him and if the repercussions for speaking out would be life-changing.

If Terry Crews, a wealthy, well-known man is wary of reporting his assault, imagine the obstacles that face many other sexual assault survivors. 

It's time for men to police our own communities, our own friends and our own family members. It's time for men to stop being passive observers of the kinds of harassment and overt sexism that are all too common in the spaces we dominate. It's time for men to stand up for the victims we see in our day-to-day lives, and to create spaces, environments, communities, teams, companies and homes where everyone feels safe and supported enough to speak truth to power.

The issue of sexual assault cannot simply be a "women's issue." It cannot be a political talking point. It cannot be a Democrat or Republican or religious or campus issue. Sexual assault is a men's issue. It is my issue. It is your issue. And it's about time we did something about it.

For more, you can follow @Ike_Saul on Twitter.

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Denis Makarenko


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