Revolutions take people by surprise. Who could have predicted a month ago, when Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the Harvey Weinstein story in The New York Times, that we would see so many sexual predators publicly named and shamed? As it turned out, Weinstein was just a drop in the bucket, and that bucket had long ago been filled to the brim. We’ve now seen hundreds of women come forward about the sexual crimes they’ve suffered at the hands of prominent men. The harrowing violations they’ve described range from harassment to rape, and took place as far back as the 1970s or as recently as a few months ago, but these crimes all have in common the fact that they went unpunished. When the women reported the assaults, they were often told to stay quiet lest they hurt their careers. And so they maintained their silence. Until now.
The parade of horribles that the Times report helped bring out includes Hollywood executives (Roy Price of Amazon Studios), film directors (Brett Ratner, James Toback), A-list actors (Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck), popular comedians (Louis C.K.), media figures (Mark Halperin, Leon Wieseltier), and a former president (George H.W. Bush). Because a single accuser is often dismissed, the reporters who’ve been working on these stories have gone to great lengths to find multiple corroborative accounts. Yet each time a new offender is named, we see the same pattern of reactions: Fans express shock and disappointment, while the offender issues a denial. Only very rarely do we see an apology.
The men who have been named in these scandals represent a very broad range of backgrounds: Republican and Democrat; Christian, Jewish, and Muslim; gay and straight. You would think that with such a wide spectrum of abusers, we would finally understand and treat sexual harassment and violence as the systemic problems they are. In reality, however, the issue has turned partisan. For example, after the news broke that Spacey had assaulted a 14-year-old actor, Donald Trump Jr. gleefully tweeted: “Why don’t we simplify this greatly and publish a list of those in Hollywood who aren’t creeps??? Apparently a much smaller group.” So confident was he in this smug assessment that he tweeted it again 10 days later: “Time to bring this back to the top. It’s more true every day.”
Yet this same Donald Trump Jr. remained stubbornly silent when The Washington Post reported that Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore had fondled a 14-year-old girl in 1979, when he was a 32-year-old district attorney. Not only did Trump Jr. fail to condemn this assault, he retweeted people who dismissed the allegations for being 30 years old, compared with the ones against Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, which date from just five years ago.
Some Republicans, like Maine Senator Susan Collins, have said that Moore should step aside from the race if “there is any truth at all to these horrific allegations.” On November 13, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell finally said: “I believe the women.” But many other Republicans have remained silent, in the hope that Moore will still win the special election in December and that they will keep their majority in the Senate. It’s important to note here that the original Washington Post report on Moore quoted four women who shared similar stories about his approaching them when they were underage, as well as an additional 30 corroborative sources. Moore himself must have been aware that he was engaging in illegal and immoral behavior, because he allegedly asked the 14-year-old to meet him around the corner from her house.
And let’s not forget that the entire Republican Party has enabled a man who not only was repeatedly accused of sexual assaults but even bragged about them: President Trump himself. So this is where we are now: Sexual assault has become a partisan issue. It falls under the category of crimes that some people are willing to forgive and forget, so long as they are perpetrated by those on their own side.
This is not just a problem for Republicans. Take the case of the Swiss-born Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan, who was accused of rape by two women. Ramadan hasn’t spoken directly about these accusations, except to issue a denial and to blame “a campaign of slander clearly orchestrated by my longtime adversaries.” Since then, several young women have come forward to say that he made unwanted advances toward them when they were his teenage students in Geneva. The cases are now being investigated by the police, but Nadia Karmous, president of a cultural association of Muslim women in Switzerland, defended the scholar by claiming that he was pursued by female fans at his conferences. “You would think you were at a Beatles concert,” she declared. “These women are fragile, they think that Tariq Ramadan has the answer to their problems.” Meanwhile, Eugene Rogan, the head of Oxford’s Middle East Centre, fretted about the effect that the accusations might have on Muslim students, saying that the allegations could appear like “just another way for Europeans to gang up against a prominent Muslim intellectual.”
What we are witnessing at the moment is nothing short of an uprising of women against sexual assault. They are revealing its epidemic frequency in our society and all the ways in which it is enabled by a culture of silence. If we allow sexual misconduct to become a partisan issue, we risk obfuscating these causes and leaving the problem to fester for the next generation. In order for this revolution to be successful, we must listen to the victims of sex crimes whether the perpetrators share our politics or not. We must call out predators even when—especially when—they are beloved or respected figures.