sexual misconduct

  • 478px Peter Farrelly at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival 1f500

    At this point, it’s public knowledge that Bohemian Rhapsody director Bryan Singer is facing allegations of sexual assault—and his film still won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture. Another Best Picture-winning director also has a history of misconduct: Peter Farrelly, who directed, produced, and co-wrote the dramatic comedy Green Book.(Which has drawn criticism for its "tone-deaf" approach to race, including from the family of Dr. Don Shirley, the black concert pianist portrayed by Mahershala Ali in the film).

    This week, the Cut dug into some disturbing (and forgotten) stories from 1998 about Farrelly. In a 1998 profile, Newsweek wrote that Farrelly and his brother Bobby, also a director, “have concocted a variety of clever ploys designed to get you to look at…something of Peter’s…something anatomical in nature.” The piece then quotes Cameron Diaz, who starred in Farrelly’s There’s Something About Mary: “When a director shows you his penis the first time you meet him, you’ve got to recognize the creative genius.” In the same article, Tom Rothman—then a Fox executive—said that he, too, had been flashed by Farrelly.

    The Cut mentions another 1998 article from Observer, in which Farrelly directly mentions his penchant for flashing: 

    “It’s not like I make a habit of just whipping it out and saying, ‘Hey! Look! My cock!’ We do a joke where, it’s like, Bob says, ‘Pete’s been really crazy, he went out and spent $500 on a belt buckle.’ I go, ‘Bob, it’s an investment, it’s not a big deal.’ He says, ‘You’re stupid!’…I say it’s not stupid…Finally, she says, ‘Let me see it.’ And I lift my shirt and have it hanging over.”

    He also added, “I do like it when they stare.”

    Farrelly released a statement to CNN, writing, “I was an idiot. I did this decades ago and I thought I was being funny, and the truth is I’m embarrassed and it makes me cringe now. I’m deeply sorry.”

    Though Farrelly’s behavior was—and remains—disgusting and unexcusable, it’s worth noting that the articles resurfaced by the Cut paint the details of Farrelly’s harassment as alarmingly blasé: a running prank, a personality quirk. And evidently, the statements provided by Diaz and Rothman and even Farrelly’s own admission didn’t follow the director throughout his career. It’s safe to say this kind of misconduct and language wouldn’t and won’t fly decades later in 2019, and perhaps that—if nothing else—can offer a small sense that we’re heading in the right direction.

    Top photo via Wikimedia Commons / David Shankbone

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  • 1920px Anita Hill 25238344107 5f339

    With his recent presidential bid, former vice president Joe Biden is facing a resurgence of criticism for his role in handling Anita Hill's 1991 testimony against Clarence Thomas, in which she accused the Supreme Court nominee of sexual harassment. Before launching his 2020 campaign, Biden reached out to Hill through an arranged phone call to express “his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country,” revealed a campaign spokesperson. Hill was unsatisfied with Biden’s attempts to make amends.

    At the time of her testimony, Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and presided over the confirmation hearings. During which, Hill was subjected to brutal interrogations by a committee of all white-males, who belittled her accusations with testimony from Thomas supporters and failed to call witnesses who were willing to testify on Hill’s behalf. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Hill, who’s currently a professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University stated, “I cannot be satisfied by simple saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you.’ I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”

    While she did mention that she does not believe Biden’s actions should bar him from the race, affirming she’s “really open to people changing,” she cannot support the candidate until he takes full responsibility. “He needs to give an apology to the other women and to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw. And not just women. There are women and men now who have just really lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence,” she told The Times

    Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s 2018 testimony against Brett Kavanaugh drew many comparisons to the 1991 hearing. Hill remarked in the interview that she considers Biden to have “set the stage” for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Both Kavanaugh and Thomas were appointed to the court despite allegations of sexual harassment. Hill said she wants sexual harassment and gender violence to be crucial topics during the Democratic presidential primary and wants to know how Biden and the rest of the candidates plan to address them.

    Considering Trump’s extensive history of despicable behavior towards women as well as the aftermath of the Kavanaugh hearings and the #MeToo movement, issues concerning sexual harassment and gender rights will be at the forefront for many voters. And, whoever is chosen as the Democratic nominee must be capable of strongly distinguishing themselves from Trump on these matters. As Hill said, there are many Americans who have, rightfully, lost confidence in our government and system of justice.  

    Header photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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    Dame Emma Thompson, an award-winning actor and screenwriter, wrote a letter to Skydance Animation last month explaining why she has decided to leave the voice cast of their upcoming 2021 film, “Luck.” Her letter, released by the L.A. Times early this morning, cites the hiring of filmmaker and sexual harasser John Lasseter as the reasoning behind her decision.

    According to a L.A. Times article from January 2019, John Lasseter took a leave of absence from his position as Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studio’s chief creative officer in November 2017 after he faced allegations of sexual misconduct. According to former colleagues, Lasseter was known for being unable to control himself around young, attractive women, for his prolonged hugs, and unwanted physical contact. Lasseter acknowledged that he had made “missteps” and publicly stated at the start of the new year, “I have spent the last year away from the industry in deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for.” He continued, “It has been humbling, but I believe it will make me a better leader.”

    Skydance Animation’s decision to hire the scorned filmmaker came as quite a shock earlier this year. In the same January 2019 article, the L.A. Times released a memo from Skydance’s CEO David Ellison that attempts to justify the hire; “While we would never minimize anyone’s subjective views on behavior, we are confident after many substantive conversations with John, and as the investigation has affirmed, that his mistakes have been recognized,” David Ellison wrote to his staff. “We are certain that John has learned valuable lessons and is ready to prove his capabilities as a leader and a colleague. And he has given his assurance that he will comport himself in a wholly professional manner [which] is the expectation of every Skydance colleague and partner.”

    According to Emma Thompson’s representatives, after news about Lasseter’s employment broke, she immediately pulled out of working on “Luck.” The letter, released by the L.A. Times reads as follows:

    As you know, I have pulled out of the production of “Luck” — to be directed by the very wonderful Alessandro Carloni. It feels very odd to me that you and your company would consider hiring someone with Mr. Lasseter’s pattern of misconduct given the present climate in which people with the kind of power that you have can reasonably be expected to step up to the plate.

    I realise that the situation — involving as it does many human beings — is complicated. However these are the questions I would like to ask:

    • If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he’s not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract that he must behave “professionally”?
    • If a man has made women at his companies feel undervalued and disrespected for decades, why should the women at his new company think that any respect he shows them is anything other than an act that he’s required to perform by his coach, his therapist and his employment agreement? The message seems to be, “I am learning to feel respect for women so please be patient while I work on it. It’s not easy.”
    • Much has been said about giving John Lasseter a “second chance.” But he is presumably being paid millions of dollars to receive that second chance. How much money are the employees at Skydance being paid to GIVE him that second chance?
    • If John Lasseter started his own company, then every employee would have been given the opportunity to choose whether or not to give him a second chance. But any Skydance employees who don't want to give him a second chance have to stay and be uncomfortable or lose their jobs. Shouldn’t it be John Lasseter who has to lose HIS job if the employees don’t want to give him a second chance?
    • Skydance has revealed that no women received settlements from Pixar or Disney as a result of being harassed by John Lasseter. But given all the abuse that’s been heaped on women who have come forward to make accusations against powerful men, do we really think that no settlements means that there was no harassment or no hostile work environment? Are we supposed to feel comforted that women who feel that their careers were derailed by working for Lasseter DIDN’T receive money?

    I hope these queries make the level of my discomfort understandable. I regret having to step away because I love Alessandro so much and think he is an incredibly creative director. But I can only do what feels right during these difficult times of transition and collective consciousness raising.

    I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women’s bodies whether they like it or not is not going to change overnight. Or in a year. But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out — like me — do not take this sort of a stand then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter’s generation.

    Yours most sincerely,

    Emma Thompson

    Many sexual harassers in the entertainment industry, like Lasseter and Louis C.K., are attempting to make career comebacks after apologizing and taking time to “reflect.” As Thompson so eloquently states in her letter, these men do not deserve a second chance at the expense of others. It is up to people with influence and power to deny these individuals' access to additional opportunities. Thank you, Emma Thompson, for leading by example.

    Top photo: flickr.com/Andrew Sweeney

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  • burgerrecords 2b866

    Burger Records, longtime home to many scrappy and charming garage bands, has come under fire for fostering a culture of sexual misconduct among both its artists and staff. The label announced on Monday that they intended to make “major structural changes” in order to address “a culture of toxic masculinity” that they have long perpetuated, though they have since made the decision to shut down completely. Bands like the Growlers, the Black Lips, SWMRS, and the Buttertones have been implicated. 

    Multiple artists came forward last week to share their experiences with sexual misconduct, harassment, and abuse including Clementine Creevy from Cherry Glazerr and Lydia Night from the Regrettes. Both women recounted how they were taken advantage of older men on the label when they were just minors.

    The Instagram account, @lured_by_burger_records, has compiled various accounts of abuse with the goal of “amplifying voices and supporting those who were victims of sexual predation by predators involved with Burger Records.” They cite a toxic culture of abuse that the label perpetrated “by allowing these men to prey on children…[b]y inviting these underaged teenagers to be a part of something that they felt honored to be ‘allowed’ into, placing predatory men on pedestals and giving them access to potential victims” Though the label has been a hotbed of predatory behavior and abuse, they are certainly not the only indie artists who are culpable. Ryan Adams has also been accused by multiple women of being manipulative and emotionally abusive (including Phoebe Bridgers, who is two decades younger than Adams). Bands like PWR BTTM and The Orwellsdisbanded after numerous allegations of assault emerged against their members. None of these artists were on the Burger Records label, but abuse is clearly rampant in these often male dominated spaces (though it’s important to note that both members of PWR BTTM identify as non-binary). 

    I am curious to see how the DIY ethos could potentially extend to repairing the damage between victims and abusers, perhaps by way of restorative justice. Burger Records has already created an intentional community of musicians, and restorative justice often works in previously existing communities, in order to ensure accountability between multiple parties. Maybe it looks like trauma counseling for the victim, an agreement that the abuser will not release new music and tour until they have formally apologized and sought help or treatment for their predatory behavior. Perhaps labels will require their employees to learn about bystander training and attend workshops on consent. At events that happened on our campus nightclub in college, we would often have designated bystanders stationed around the venue who you could come to if you needed to feel safe, or just wanted to talk. Raucous all-ages live shows have been a place of solace and release for many a teenager, beyond just at Burger Records. There are many steps to be taken in order to ensure that everyone feels safe and supported at these shows, and many of them can be accomplished without invoking the carceral state. 

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  • pexels photo 1589888 741cc

    If you’ve ever set foot in a mall or turned on a TV, you’re probably familiar with the words: “Every Kiss Begins With Kay,” “He Went To Jared” and “Zales: The Diamond Store.” You’ve probably seen the cheesy, heteronormative commercials involving a man surprising his wide-eyed girlfriend/fiancé/wife with a sparkly piece of jewelry, illustrating his love and devotion to her. And, as a result of these commercials, you’re probably familiar with the notion that this is how you treasure women--with sweeping gestures materializing in a piece of jewelry.

    But you might not know that the company responsible for selling romance and love instilled a culture of pay discrimination and sexual harassment. The New York Times Magazine has published a detailed expose, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, uncovering the toxic culture of Sterling Jewelers Inc. and its parent company, Signet. Signet owns the jewelry stores seen in every mall across the country. Kay, Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Zales are only a few of the brands under Signet. Brodesser-Akner interviewed lawyers and dozens of employees about the company’s corporate culture and a “pay-and-promotions” class-action lawsuit against Signet, which at one point included 70,000 women. After fourteen years, the lawsuit remains unresolved.

    In 2005, Dawn Soutos-Coons filed a report claiming sex discrimination in the Jared store where she worked. She had been a manager at J.B. Robinson, another store under Signet, where she helped increase sales from $800,000 to more than $3 million. When her husband had to relocate to Florida for work, she requested a transfer and was offered an assistant-manager position at a Jared, a new store then that sold higher-end jewelry. For Soutos-Coons, “the idea of working with the really good stuff made the demotion palatable.” She also mentioned that she took the job on the condition that she would be considered for the first manager spot available.

    But, she was never given the job even “when the manager left for training to be a district manager; not when that man was replaced by a man who had just two years of experience at another jewelry store along with a few years of nonjewelry experience at a Men’s Wearhouse.” Moreover, because of her access to payroll records, she discovered that the men were making more than the women, who all had more experience. Hourly wages for the women averaged $10.39 while the men’s averaged $13.40, which “on that average, a woman working a 30-hour workweek for 52 weeks each year would make $16,208.40 before bonuses, while a man working the same amount would make $20,904.”

    Accounts from more employees reveal a company that cultivated “a system in which men were consistently paid more than women and promoted more quickly; a hiring system in which management received instructions from regional vice presidents that included: ‘Put them in a push-up bra and get them on the lease line.’” In other words, the company was a breeding ground for sexual harassment.

    Incidents of on-the-job harassment ranged from lewd comments, like when a soon-to-be manager reportedly told a female sales associate that he wanted to “lick her head to toe,” to rape. At a 2004 managers’ meeting, a man by the name of Rick Docekal raped a fellow manager while she was asleep.

    The Washington Post and The New York Times have previously reported some of the incidents, but the Times Magazine piece, as  Kelly Faircloth for Jezebel writes, “lays everything out in a way that heightens the contradiction at the heart of the story—the notion that a company built on women’s fantasies of being loved and valued would systemically degrade and exploit the women who work there.”

    Header photo by rawpixel.com via Pexels

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  •  bus school school bus yellow 159658 01b0b

    In an unbelievable clusterfuck of toxic masculinity and lawlessness, a former upstate New York bus driver, who admitted to raping a 14-year-old girl, will not serve jail time. On Thursday, Jefferson County Judge James P. McClusky sentenced 26-year-old Shane M. Piche to 10 years probation, reports The Watertown Daily Times.

    In a plea deal, Piche pled guilty to third-degree rape and will be registered as a Level 1 sex offender, the minimum level. According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, a level 1 designation indicates a low risk of committing the crime again thus the offender’s full home address will not be available in an online database.

    While the district attorney’s office sought for Piche to be registered a level higher, in which his information would be available to the public, the judge determined the decision to be appropriate since Piche had no prior arrests and there was “only one victim in this plea.” The judge also issued three no-contact orders against Piche who, according to the Times, will have to pay $375 in court fees and a $1,000 special sex registration fee. Piche is not allowed to be alone with anyone under 17-years-old, although some exceptions were approved. 

    As reported by the state police, Piche met the girl working as a bus driver, but the sexual assault happened at his home. He was additionally charged with unlawfully dealing with a child and endangering the welfare of a child after allegedly providing her with alcohol.

    In a statement given to WWNY-TV, the survivor’s mother expressed, “I wish Shane Piche would have received time in jail for the harm he caused to my child. He took something from my daughter she will never get back and has caused her to struggle with depression and anxiety.”

    The tone-deaf statement from Piche’s defense attorney, Eric Swartz, demonstrates ignorance shown far too often in cases of rape and sexual assault. Concern for the perpetrator’s future surpasses the severity of the crime and the resulting emotional impact on the survivor’s mental and physical health. Whether or not the assault “isn’t something that didn’t cause him pain,” and “isn’t something that didn’t have consequences,” is asinine compared to the emotional burdens survivors of sexual abuse carry with them for life. Piche’s sex offender registry will eventually expire. Trauma does not.

    Header photo via Pixabay 

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    Early this year, Lifetime premiered the groundbreaking docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, renewing public awareness of Kelly's decades-long predatory behavior. In 2002, Kelly was indicted in Illinois on 21 counts of child pornography in relation to a videotape reportedly showing a then-32-year-old Kelly sexually assaulting athen-14-year-old girl. The case didn’t make it to trial for six years, during which public attention waned and Kelly re-branded his image, even going so far as to poke fun at the allegations against him (Remember Trapped In The Closet?). Kelly was acquitted of the charges in 2008; jurors said they made the decision because the girl believed to be in the video refused to testify, though 14 witnesses identified her. 

    Surviving R. Kelly is a difficult and necessary watch and, with great attention to detail, explores the timeline of Kelly’s reported assaults and explains how the abuses occurred and furthermore, how he was able to persist in this behavior for so long. The New Yorker reports that two weeks ago, attorney Michael Avenatti tweeted, “Since April, I have been working on the R. Kelly matter. The results of that work will soon be known. We are going to blow this wide open for the sake of each of his victims and one less pedophile will be free. Count on it.” Today, CBS reports that Chicago law enforcement has confirmed that the prosecutors have obtained a 45-minute tape. Avenatti has said the tape is different from the earlier tape, but has not said if the victim is different from the minor shown in the earlier tape.

    This past Thursday, Avenatti tweeted a formal statement where he asserted he was representing “multiple clients in connection with allegations of sexual assault of minors” by Kelly. Avenatti additionally said he gave a videotape of “Kelly engaging in multiple sexual assaults of a girl underage,” to the Cook County state’s attorney, Kim Foxx, and that the timeline of the incidents are within the Illinois statute of limitations. This means Kelly could be arrested very soon and finally held accountable for his actions. Read below for the full statement.

    Header photo courtesy of Andrew Steinmetz via Flickr

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