How and Where Do We Draw the Line on Sexual Assault?


Kevin Spacey | Getty Images

Divisiveness remains at the core of the American cultural climate in 2017. The subsequent social tension that results from political discord has managed to creep into every seemingly nonpartisan area of our society — and the national conversation on sexual assault is no exception. Weinstein, Franken, and Moore are the latest to ignite debate in the social sphere, serving as thought-provoking examples of how best to deal with cultural and political influencers abusing their power.

The current media spotlight on sexual assault, thanks to the #MeToo campaign and the “Weinstein ripple effect,” has encouraged survivors to come out of the shadows and expose the injustices done unto them. As support for accountability for actions of abusers grows, so does the list of those accused, surging through the media circuit and becoming a consistent talking point on Capitol Hill.

It is our job, as members of this democracy, to rescind the authority of those individuals who abuse it.”

Those accused of sexual assault are often made into scapegoats by their political opposition; rather than addressing the systemic issue, a party exploits the situation to denounce the twisted ideology, morally corrupt customs, and unethical practices of their political adversary. This divisiveness, as induced by mainstream news media, mars the conversation about sexual assault. Consequently, Americans are hindered in our collective ability to draw lines that define accountability for future generations.

We see senators, leaders, and influencers on both sides of the political spectrum identified as offenders: but how do politics and power come into play as these stories unfold? The concept and manifestations of power play vital roles in our everyday lives — sometimes subconsciously — and it is often difficult to tell if someone is behaving in an abusive or manipulative manner.


Harvey Weinstein | Thomas Hawk/flickr/cc

When a Hollywood executive leverages his status over a struggling actress to get her into bed, he is not only abusing the freedom of that woman, but also abusing his power. An abuse of power in this capacity is systemic, and the ‘power struggle’ of the casting couch provides an easy ‘in’ for high level executives to take advantage of struggling artists. It is our job, as members of this democracy, to rescind the authority of those individuals who abuse it. If we fail to check those in power, we perpetuate a society that allows, and even encourages, this sort of abuse.


Our continued persecution of sexual abusers — and the implications of power regularly being given to those who abuse it, without fear of repercussions — must be taken seriously. Nobody, regardless of their political affiliation, voting history, or any personal factors, can be allowed to perpetrate sexual assault with impunity. It’s as simple as the cliche elementary school teacher mantra: “If I do it for you, I have to do it for everyone.”

If this misconduct is allowed to go overlooked the narrative that helped get Trump elected will continue to prosper: if you’re rich and powerful, you can get away with it. In an ideal situation, perpetrators would be judged solely on the act in question, and one’s status or influence would not act as a get out of jail free card. However, those in possession of either remain largely untried in the face of sexual assault allegations.

Donald Trump | CC

In addition to a lack of equal legal ground across socioeconomic strata, the culture of divisiveness in the US doesn’t allow for decisions to be made on what, if enacted, punishments would look like for crimes committed by those in power. Do senators lose their seats? Do we exile performers, and blacklist certain films that are guilty by association? How do we, as a society, begin to draw the line and decide what is acceptable in our modern world?

While it may seem that the power is entirely in the hands of the aggressors, we as the consuming body are able to dictate what lasting effects the current media firestorm has. ”

The inconvenient and time consuming truth is that these instances of assault require individualized attention and treatment. We cannot pretend that any one case of sexual assault is comparable to the next —  each is personal and complex in nature. A single generic legal response, like receiving a ticket for a traffic violation, would be woefully inadequate. With this understanding of the individual nature of incidences of abuse, we can become better judges of what media we are willing to consume and what public servants we let represent our interests.

My parents’ dissatisfaction and groaning at not being able to watch House of Cards anymore resonated with me; I have trouble looking at Kevin Spacey, knowing he abused his power to prey on young men. However, in a more detached sense, the work has relevant messages that stand on their own. American Beauty has a radically different meaning today than it did a few years ago, and this should not be ignored. History can’t be rewritten in the face of an unhappy ending and there is much to learn from our fresh, enlightened perspectives of these events — after all, hindsight is 20-20.

While it may seem that the power is entirely in the hands of the aggressors, we as the consuming body are able to dictate what lasting effects the current media firestorm has. American’s divisive ideological nature may keep many from seeing eye to eye on political matters, but we can continue to work together and over time — like many sociopolitical movements past — redefine what standards we hold our leaders and influencers to.