BY LUKE HARRIS STAFF WRITER
In some manner, we’ve all been a bystander. Whether we are driving past a car crash or walking past a homeless person in need of cash, the acts of the typical bystander vary far and wide.
All it takes is a self-comforting mindset that says, “There’s nothing I can do” or “I don’t have the time for this.” Whatever excuses we make for ourselves, they always manifest in unproductive apathy.
But make no mistake, the bystander holds responsibility. Especially when their non-action allows for sexual misconduct.
We talk about predators. We talk about their victims. But the bystander has the power to stop the cycle instead of allowing it to continue. Sadly, this isn’t something that we discuss enough. Instead, the conversation revolves around the false dualism of perpetrator vs. victim.
The infamous case of Harvey Weinstein, accused by 87 people of improper sexual behavior, is the unfortunate reality that the media centers around. It’s a notable case that deserves the immense recognition it has gotten, but the silence from powerful public figures within Weinstein’s circle is deafening.
Weinstein’s power in Hollywood spread far and wide. The films he produced routinely made millions at the box office while earning critical acclaim. He was able to launch careers and halt them. Weinstein is even thanked more than God in Oscar acceptance speeches.
Amongst those grateful speeches are numerous Hollywood A-List celebrities — most of whom chose to be bystanders to Weinstein’s actions.
Back in 2017, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck did release statements against Weinstein — but only after being called out by numerous people to speak up. Moreover, their statements read as a defense of themselves rather than a declaration against Weinstein.
Instead of taking a proactive stance, they chose silence until they couldn’t afford to ignore the grotesque reality of Weinstein anymore. This pattern exists far beyond Damon and Affleck.
The Weinstein allegations sparked dozens of other allegations against Hollywood A-Listers that resulted in the same pattern. Some got off with a half-assed “I’m sorry.” Some got off with a giant check on the promise to never work in entertainment again. Few faced legal ramifications. Most were dead silent.
This silence echoes far beyond Los Angeles and into the institutions of our government housed in Washington, D.C. It’s heartbreaking to remember that both major presidential candidates in 2020 had sexual misconduct allegations. Instead of sparking a nuanced debate on the matter, political leadership chose to sweep it under the rug and hope the voters forget.
Hollywood and political party leadership chose silence for many reasons, but their primary reason was that they knew it would have negative ramifications for their careers. It’s not a good look to be associated with someone accused of these acts. But the pure optics of sexual misconduct allegations should be the last concern in these scenarios.
In situations of sexual misconduct, it’s not about looking good in the end. It’s about doing the right thing.
Amongst all college students, 13 percent will experience sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. According to the CDC, one in five women will experience completed or attempted rape. The numbers don’t lie. This problem persists, but it’s preventable too.
There are numerous college initiatives, workplace reforms and legislative proposals to tackle this nuanced and expansive issue. But they all won’t be as effective if bystanders don’t recognize their role in this problem.
RAINN has great information about how bystanders can intervene. The Marine Corps reiterates the 3 “D”s of bystander intervention (direct, distract, delegate). But every advice system boils down to something that can’t be taught: instinct.
Our public figures repeatedly choose silence, but we can’t be bystanders to their inaction anymore. Instead of following in the footsteps of Hollywood cowardice, we can choose to speak up.
If something feels off to you, trust your gut and take action. You don’t have to pick a fight to stop it. You don’t have to fear violence. But you do need to have the courage to speak up.