What enabled Harvey Weinstein
Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's career is over — or at least, it should be. This past week, a series of stories in The New York Times and The New Yorker detailed a history of alleged sexual harassment, assault, and rape — including testimonials from A-list celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. Weinstein, whose Gawker-killer lawyer Charles Harder is reportedly preparing to sue the Times, has denied some of the charges, but he has also fled to Europe for "sex addiction" treatment — thus putting him out of the relevant criminal jurisdiction, in an odd coincidence.
The Weinstein case has added fuel to the ongoing debate about how to prevent sexual predators from getting away with abusing women (and some men) like this. Some liberals have taken an effectively individualized approach, arguing that the number one priority is for men to "STOP BEING ASSHOLES," for fathers to teach their sons better, and so forth.
That is a worthy project. But it is also important to address the social and economic structures that enable sexual predation.
Now, let me emphasize again, changing the culture of maleness in this country is definitely a vital task. Toxic masculinity is a gigantic problem, from Santa Barbara gunman Elliot Rodger to misogynist gamers to President Trump — who was also credibly accused last year of the exact same crimes as Weinstein.
But it is distinctly odd to try to respond to an alleged decades-long crime spree with a top-to-bottom cultural overhaul of an entire gender. Consider other crimes: The vast majority are committed by young men, but a reform of maleness writ large generally isn't what people say when there is a robbery or a mugging. In these contexts, it is generally accepted that there will be some population of people who will commit crimes — sociopaths and such — and a larger population of people who will commit crimes if they can get away with it.
The first bulwark against crime is thus the criminal justice system, which should identify and punish the perpetrators — to provide justice for the victims, to get the worst people off the street, and to deter other would-be criminals. (Though that is not to endorse the gulag-esque American mass incarceration system, which simultaneously grossly over-punishes minor offenses and routinely fails to solve murders and assaults).
It's doubly odd in Weinstein's specific case, because as reported by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker, New York cops had taped evidence of him in 2015 admitting to one of the sex crimes in question — but Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance still declined to prosecute. In another odd coincidence, Weinstein's lawyer David Boies gave $10,000 to Vance's re-election campaign after he made that decision, reports David Sirota — and that is only part of the $182,000 that lawyers from his firm have given to Vance over the years. ProPublica also recently reported that Vance quashed an investigation into Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner after a visit and a $25,000 donation from Donald Trump's lawyer Marc Kasowitz.
(Vance has denied that these donations had anything to do with his decisions. A spokesperson told Sirota that "David Boies did not represent Harvey Weinstein in 2015 during the criminal investigation," while Vance told ProPublica that "[Kasowitz's] contributions had no influence whatsoever on my decision-making in the [Trump] case.")
So it seems to me that one crucial step for preventing sexual predation is simply bringing rich and powerful people under the rule of law. It absolutely beggars belief to think that Weinstein would have avoided prosecution if he had not been a wealthy movie mogul.
Of course, Weinstein had power beyond money. His ability to invoke the glamour and star power of Hollywood — and the concomitant access to media attention — gave him influence considerably in excess of his tax bracket. His alleged victims spoke of being terrified of his power over careers, and also over reputations. Submitting to his advances could mean success in one of the most desired industries in the world, while denying him could mean being blackballed forever, if not being badly smeared in the press.
Still, money did undoubtedly help him, and Weinstein is in some ways an outlier even for the executive class. The average bigshot predator will not be able to call in Matt Damon and Russell Crowe to reportedly pressure Times reporters into killing a story.
But economic inequality itself is surely another enabling factor here, on multiple levels. The fact that nearly all economic growth has accrued to the tippy-top of the income ladder for the last several decades gives people like Weinstein much more money to spread around through campaign contributions, high-class parties, and other such influence peddling. Direct influence aside, plutocrat wealth has powered the long neoliberal legal precedent campaign which has made winning cases against wealthy criminals more difficult, and made American prosecutors deeply reluctant to prosecute such cases in the first place. That is most obvious for Wall Street fraud, but it also reflects a broader culture of legal impunity for the ultra-wealthy which undoubtedly shielded Weinstein.
From the other side of the social fence, America's threadbare welfare state also enables sexual predation, by making women more dependent on wealthy men who can dangle offers of jobs and economic security. If social insurance programs were there to catch anyone who had trouble finding a job, it would make it easier to refuse advances from one's boss. That probably wouldn't help that much against Weinstein, who could offer career opportunities in an extremely small and in-demand industry, but it would help in general. Indeed, one creep who has toured the world found Danish women (raised under the world's most generous welfare state) remarkably resistant to being manipulated into sex — to his fury.
Finally, the media dogpile on Weinstein, like that on Trump, Roger Ailes, and Bill Cosby before him, will no doubt have a laudatory effect. Many other predators who have also gotten away with it for years are surely right now living in deep fear of the first story that will break the dam and lead to a career-destroying media firestorm.
Again, all this will not completely solve sexual predation. Toxic masculinity must be addressed. But such policies and projects also have the advantage of simplicity. Convincing rich, powerful executives to stop abusing their authority — much less reforming hermetic communities of angry, sexually frustrated men — is a tall order, and I haven't seen any convincing ideas on how to even start. But throwing a rich sex criminal in prison when he confesses on tape is easy.