On Sexual Harassment in Hollywood, on Campuses, and in Pennsylvania

Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein

One of the biggest news stories right now reveal allegations of serial sexual harassment by Hollywood studio executive Harvey Weinstein. A wrenching New York Times story details decades of allegations following a pattern wherein Weinstein would allegedly invite younger actresses to work meetings in hotel rooms, then show up in a robe or inappropriately dressed, make sexual advances and even ask them to watch him shower.

We may be seeing the beginning of a Cosby effect take place, where more women are coming forward to share similar experiences now that the allegations, characterized as an “open secret” in Hollywood, have become public record.

One of the themes in the coverage is Weinstein’s support of liberal causes, and his apparent assumption that such support would somehow inoculate him from a scandal erupting around his own behavior.

A particularly troubling link between public displays of wokeness about the kind of rape culture that, in private, he allegedly perpetuated is Weinstein’s support of The Hunting Ground, a 2015 award-winning documentary produced by Amy Ziering and directed by Kirby Dick that explores sexual assault on college campuses and the ways many schools have failed to adequately address it.

WLP Executive Director Carol Tracy has a cameo on the film. Tracy’s work on improving institutional response to sexual assault began as a college student back in 1973, when she organized a sit-in on the University of Pennsylvania campus after female students were advised to dress conservatively in response to a gang rape on campus. Today, Tracy and WLP Managing Attorney Terry Fromson are recognized as experts in both reforming police response to sexual assault and Title IX, the landmark education equity law that prohibits federally funded education programs from discriminating on the basis of sex.

Vanity Fair just published an interview with Amy Ziering.

From the piece:

The irony of having what could have been one of the last Weinstein-orchestrated Academy Awards campaigns come from a film about a hidden-in-plain-sight sexual-assault crisis, was lost on no one. Reached Thursday, the film’s producer, Amy Ziering, said she and Dick had minimal contact with Weinstein during the release of the documentary. Still, she said they were not surprised by the charges. About a year after working with Weinstein, Ziering said, she spoke to women who offered her their own allegations against Weinstein.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Meanwhile, the problems explored in The Hunting Ground have become even more urgent now that the Trump administration has rolled back protections for victims of sexual assault and harassment in federally funded schools.

As we re-examine the dynamics and frequency of sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s worth noting: Here in Pennsylvania, most women working at companies with three or fewer employees are not protected under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits sexual harassment (the exceptions are workers protected by a local ordinances better than state law).

There is no evidence that employees of smaller businesses are less likely than employees at larger corporations to experience harassment.

Legislation to extend equal protection to all Pennsylvania workers under the Human Relations Act (HB2300 of 2013-2014 session, HB846 of the 2015-2016 session) has been repeatedly introduced by members of the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania legislature, and repeatedly ignored by the Pennsylvania legislature at large.

If you care about this issue, you should contact your Representative and ask them to support amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, so that all employees in the Commonwealth are covered, not just some.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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