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How do they get away with it?

10/13/2017, 7:09 p.m.
The New York Times was reporting well-known rumors and accusations when it broke the story Thursday that big-shot movie mogul ...
Earl O. Hutchinson

The New York Times was reporting well-known rumors and accusations when it broke the story Thursday that big-shot movie mogul and Miramax founder Harvey Weinstein allegedly had a long history of sexually harassing, abusing and victimizing countless women. But Mr. Weinstein might have gotten away with the alleged sexual abuse that reportedly spanned three decades for a good reason — several good reasons, in fact.

He is super rich and powerful, and he had tentacles into every nook and cranny of Hollywood film, art and culture. Along the way, he made a lot of careers for big-name actors, actresses, directors, writers and others in the film industry. They owed him, and owed him a lot. This can buy a lot of silence. Silence, yes, because many of them admitted that they had heard the rumors, knew the alleged victims, or said they were victims themselves, of Mr. Weinstein’s alleged sexual rapacity.

See no evil, hear no evil — and, especially, report no evil: This apparently was the pattern with Bill Cosby. His alleged rapes, drugging and victimization went on for decades, and many heard the stories and had first-hand knowledge of his alleged acts. Many of the victims themselves screamed foul. In some cases, they filed police complaints. This all fell on deaf ears.

The deafest ears of all are within the legal system. Wealthy guys can play the system by spreading lots of cash around and shelling it out in numerous settlements with the victims. The settlements buy silence. The victims are legally bound not to talk publicly about the sexual abuse.

This silence has another dangerous consequence when the allegations of abuse by men such as Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Cosby eventually become public. Heads will shake furiously in disbelief. The immediate retort from some people is, why are accusers bringing this stuff up now? Why did they keep quiet so long if this was happening? This makes the victims and their accusations suspect — that it’s all made up to ruin reputations, get some cheap publicity, and is a shakedown for money. Mr. Cosby and his apologists — before, during and after his sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania last June — used this ploy to trash his female accusers.

The Iowa Law Review in March 2014 found that rape is routinely underreported in dozens of cities. Rape claims were often dismissed with little or no investigation. The result was there were no reports, no statistical counts and no record of many attacks.

The study zeroed in on the prime reason for this, namely disbelief. Disbelief assures that powerful men are reflexively believed when they scream foul at their accusers. They may lambaste them as liars, cheats and gold-diggers, or ridicule and demean them as sluts. If things get too hot, they toss out a few dollars in hush money settlements and then scream even louder that it was all a shakedown operation in the first place, further demonizing the victim.

Contributing to the problem is a misunderstanding of what a typical sexual predator looks like. Countless studies show that attackers are not usually stereotypical perverts. A sexual attacker can be anyone — from the helpful, adorable boy next door to a wealthy, staid, respectable pillar of the community with a loving family.

For years Mr. Cosby and Mr. Weinstein had their attorneys, agents and influential entertainment pals who shilled for them. They had another ace to play. They bought public goodwill by becoming noted, influential philanthropists.

It seemed then to defy belief that these solid pillars of the arts, entertainment and social activist communities could be grotesque sexual predators. Yes, Cosby was tried and will face another trial, and Weinstein was fired by the board of his Weinstein Co. No matter, there are still legions who refuse to believe the worst about powerful figures, let alone openly denounce them. This is how the Weinsteins and Cosbys get away with it.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.