Harvey Weinstein: Another Ghomeshi, Another Cosby

How Many More Until Something is Done About Workplace Harassment?

Graphic Jo Franken

Over the last three years, we watched three high-profile workplace sexual assault cases publicly unfold.

In 2014, then-CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi was finally caught when a woman pressed charges of sexual assault, opening the floodgates and confirming years of gossip and suspicion that Ghomeshi was a sexual predator.

In that same year—and same month—women came forward about Bill Cosby, again. He’d been accused in the 60s, but little attention was given to the allegations until comedian Hannibal Buress asserted that the claims were true in a standup routine.

Now, Miramax movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has had his big, perverted bubble busted. Over 37 actresses have come forward to share their stories, adding up to over a decade’s worth of sexual abuse.

In 2014, the same year Ghomeshi and Cosby were exposed, the Angus Reid Institute released a study indicating that 43 per cent of women had reported being sexually harassed in the workplace. With what we know today—over eight for Ghomeshi, 60 for Cosby and now 37 for Weinstein—the real number’s surely higher.

Actually, I know it is higher because I, and many of my girlfriends and former female co-workers, am part of the percentage who didn’t report sexual harassment.

Why didn’t we report? We’re afraid the company would fire us or tell us, “you’re making it up.” That’s a familiar narrative used against women to dismiss their accusations, it’s called gaslighting. Or we’ll report, and nothing would happen to the perpetrator. Or those with deep pockets, such as Ghomeshi and Cosby, hire top-notch lawyers to defend them or pay us to “shut our mouths.”

Thinking back to Ghomeshi, Cosby, and now Weinstein, I have to ask, “When does this cycle end?”

After the CBC fired Ghomeshi, they hired Janice Rubin, a Toronto employment lawyer, to conduct research and provide suggestions on what the CBC could do differently in the future. Under the “considerations” section of the report, some enlightened person noted Ghomeshi’s sexual abuse in the workplace “brings light to the vulnerabilities of young workers” and “younger employees may be particularly vulnerable to behaviours contrary to those outlined in the employer’s Policy in order to maintain employment.”

Hold up—is this a new concept to anyone? Taking advantage of young people, especially women, has been going on since the Middle Ages, even before that, rape and sexual abuse is a common theme in Greek Mythology (think: the crime of Laius). And if we put the pieces together, we see the majority of Weinstein’s sexual abuse/advances were towards women in the business under 25, similar to Cosby. Ghomeshi also targeted young women, especially young journalism interns.

Before writing this piece, I was reading Montreal actress Erika Rosenbaum’s CBC interview about Weinstein. As I was reading, I noticed the pattern was the same as with Ghomeshi and Cosby: man in power lures young woman with promises of career advancement. Man finally gets woman alone after having built some relationship with her, usually as a mentor or friend, and then attacks.

In Rosenbaum’s case, Weinstein promised her connections, and after a series of meetings and “friendly advice,” one day attacked her, grabbing her by the back of the neck, pushing her face against a mirror, then masturbated behind her. Ghomeshi brought girls home, showed them a teddy bear and then smacked them until they were unconscious. Cosby drugged women and then offered them a couch, and while they were passed out, raped them. Ghomeshi and Cosby also promised their victims connections and advice.

Another thing I noticed in Rosenbaum’s CBC interview was a detail about Weinstein’s assistant: she would leave these women alone with Weinstein, “closing the door behind them.” As I read through other interviews, this detail became a common thread among the sexual abuse allegations. Model/actress Cara Delevingne, and costume designer, Dawn Dunning, also mention the assistant in their testimonies.

Now, I’m not blaming the assistant. What I’m asking is: Did the assistant know what Weinstein was like? Did they do anything?

Did Ghomeshi’s managers know about his behaviour? You bet. Did they do anything? No. And Cosby’s producers, did they know and did they do anything? Nothing was ever done. No one warned these women. No one stood beside them and said, “This is not right. We’re going to fix it.”

What’s the limit? How many more assaults need to happen before employers are willing to act, and before one woman becomes 60 women? How far does it have to go? Death? Your daughter/girlfriend/sister? What more could it possibly take?