Saturday 15 December 2018

Katie Byrne: When we focus on urging victims to come forward, we lose sight of the perpetrator’s enablers

Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein
Misplaced sense of responsibility: Minka Kelly
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

The actress Minka Kelly apologised for staying silent when she became one of the growing group of women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct via her Instagram account last week.

"I'm sorry for obliging his orders to be complicit in protecting his behaviour, which he obviously knew was wrong or he wouldn't have asked me not to tell anyone in the first place," she wrote.

Kelly's misplaced sense of responsibility will no doubt please those who believe that Weinstein's alleged victims should have spoken out sooner; yet it fundamentally neglects the real issue: when we focus on urging victims to come forward, we lose sight of the perpetrator's enablers, allies and, indeed, anyone who sighed, "Sure, that's just Harvey".

The designation of blame should be fairly cut and dry when dealing with someone who allegedly masturbated into a potted plant, but as we all know - in Ireland especially - systemic abuse of power is always veiled by a conspiracy of silence.

What we find difficult to accept, however, is that this conspiracy of silence doesn't just allow abuse to prevail; it allows it to happen in the first place. The complicit don't just turn a blind eye: they book hotel rooms and make 'you'll never work in this town again!' phone calls the next day.

I'm not a mental health professional yet I can't help but notice that Weinstein's alleged pattern of abuse bears all the hallmarks of the Sociopath-Empath-Apath triad, a fascinating theory put forward by the authors of The Empathy Trap, Dr Jane McGregor and Tim McGregor.

According to the authors, sociopaths tend to target soft-touch empathic types: people who don't want to cause offence; people who struggle to say no. Yet in order to do this, the sociopath relies on the 'apath': an individual or an organisation that is willing to overlook the abuse.

The apath is the person who keeps his head down as a colleague is unfairly managed out of the workplace, or the junior accountant who knows her company is cooking the books, but decides that the matter is above her pay grade.

In other words, apaths are everywhere.

Emma Thompson recently joined the maelstrom, speaking out about the system of "harassment, and belittling, and bullying, and interference" that is endemic to the film industry. It was a damning indictment but perhaps the real issue is that apathy is endemic to the industry, just as it is to any industry where power is systematically abused.

Minka Kelly wasn't content to just apologise for staying silent. She also apologised for "not insisting that my reps never allow anyone to take a meeting in a hotel room (with him or anyone else)".

The subtext of this statement is clear - her representation put her in a vulnerable position - but why is she not emphatically taking them to task? Of course it's important that more women come forward, but it's more important that the people who helped put these women in uncompromising positions are called out.

Dozens of Hollywood agents, no doubt hypnotised by the 10pc fee on a Weinstein salary, told their clients to meet a prospective employer in a hotel room.

It's easy to point the finger at the women who watched as a Do Not Disturb sign was placed on the door, but we ought to remember that the people who were paid to protect these women told them to take the lift to the 10th floor.

You could argue that they were oblivious to Weinstein's alleged pattern of sexual misconduct, but it's also worth remembering that Hollywood agents know about potential productions when scripts are still at the first draft stage. It is within a talent agent's interest to know everything - everything - that is happening within the Hollywood ecosystem.

If they knew about the rumours surrounding Weinstein - which seems very likely - they gave his alleged advances a facade of professionalism, just as his assistants helped to cultivate a non-threatening atmosphere.

According to most accounts, Weinstein was almost always accompanied by an assistant who was ordered to fade out of the scene just before the producer moved in.

Cara Delevingne alleges that Weinstein's assistant encouraged her to go to the producer's hotel room, where she was later asked to kiss another woman. "[Weinstein] then invited me to his room," she wrote in an account on Instagram. "I quickly declined and asked his assistant if my car was outside. She said it wasn't and wouldn't be for a bit and I should go to his room. At that moment I felt very powerless and scared."

There have been many accusations from Weinstein's former assistants, suggesting that they too were the victims of coercive control - and we all know that the abused can often become the abusers.

Nonetheless, we can't ignore the key role that they played and the Faustian pact that they signed. A conspiracy of silence speaks volumes about the people who stay quiet.

Those of a utopian point of view believe that the Weinstein controversy is the beginning of a paradigm shift in Hollywood, but look a little closer and you'll see that we've been here before.

As scores of badge-wearing, virtue-signalling A-listers condemn the producer's actions and donate their salaries to Justice for Potted Plants and the likes, the rotting roots of apathy-fuelled systemic abuse continue to twist and warp.

The word 'complicit' has been bandied about in the ongoing allegations and, as always, the victims are the first to accept responsibility. But are these women truly complicit when they faced a culture that told them that Weinstein and those of his ilk were beyond recrimination?

More to the point, are Weinstein's enablers - the 'apaths' if you will - complicit, or are they in fact culpable?      

Irish Independent

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