OPINION - Ayesha Hazarika: The next stage of #MeToo has to tackle noxious silencing of victims
I highly recommend a new film, She Said, about how Harvey Weinstein was exposed and brought down in 2017. It’s a reminder of that a huge moment, and how it turbo-charged the #MeToo movement (created by Tarana Burke in 2006).
The film is a story of female courage from the actresses who spoke out, including Ashley Judd, to New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who slaved away to get the story to press. But two other key figures are Zelda Perkins and Rowena Chiu, who worked for Weinstein. He sexually assaulted Chiu at the Venice Film Festival and Perkins confronted him about it. They both paid a heavy price.
I interviewed them recently and they are two of the most inspiring and brave women I have ever met. They made a complaint and took it to senior people at Miramax and after denials and a lot of gaslighting they were eventually offered a settlement. Part of the conditions they asked for was that something be done about Weinstein’s behaviour. They then had to sign the most punishing and restrictive Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA). They were only in their twenties and weren’t even allowed to talk to their doctor, therapist, police or family members.
There’s a scene in the film where even Chiu’s husband didn’t know his own wife had been assaulted because she couldn’t tell him. These NDAs effectively buy silence and cover up what’s happening in an organisation.
The film shines a light on how hard it is to expose systemic wrongdoing when dealing with a powerful individual like Weinstein. The actresses who spoke out were blacklisted. The women who worked for him and reported him were silenced through NDAs and their careers were over.
In the end Weinstein failed. Eighty-three women came forward and he’s serving 23 years in jail. But all the women involved paid a heavy price with their careers, mental health and relationships. And Perkins and Chiu told me that this kind of abuse and cover-up still continues today. They are campaigning to stop the use of NDAs, which they argue makes victims complicit in the concealment of systemic wrongdoing. I agree. In cases of sexual harassment or other kinds of egregious behaviour, why should victims be gagged? Making a problem go away is not fixing it.
Yesterday, senior journalists and editors wrote to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab to back a new law to tackle how the powerful use strategic lawsuits against public participation (known as Slapps) to shut down investigations. Monsters like Weinstein exist in powerful positions in all sections of society: politics, media, entertainment, sport, business.
It’s all too easy to be sickened by their grotesque behaviour. What we need is real change. And that means stopping men from using their money and power to silence their victims and the press.
In other news..
The latest census figures for 2021 show that for the first time, less than half the population of England and Wales defines as Christian. Cue the usual hysterical nonsense. Apparently, Christmas is cancelled, and Santa’s beard is looking suspiciously Islamic.
As a non-practising Muslim, I was reminded of the positive power of religion on Monday evening at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in Guildhall, where Archbishop Justin Welby made a speech to an audience including Rishi Sunak. He told a tale of two leaders. One works for bettering himself, the other for his community. Both can be “great” but what separates them is virtue and good character.
Wise words. Religion can be such a force for good. But beware those who weaponise these kinds of statistics to sow division. People who lose it on Twitter about the “fall of Christianity” are also chilled about children going hungry or the rise of foodbanks.