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Sexual assault should not be a punchline

Illustration: Madalyn Drewno

Comments at the Golden Globes were harmful

Hollywood was shaken in late 2017 with the outpouring of sexual harassment allegations against some of the most popular and powerful men in the entertainment industry. Men lost their careers, families were torn apart, and victims were forced to relive these dark memories. Even so, the Hollywood elite continue to treat the epidemic as a joke.

At the Golden Globes on Jan. 7, even though news stories were still emerging, host Seth Meyers began the night by joking about the scandals. His monologue began with, “Welcome ladies and remaining gentlemen!” Immediately, the audience began to cheer. A room full of the Hollywood elite who go out of their way to prove the severity of sexual harassment immediately began to treat rape as nothing more than a joke.

As he continued to joke, comparing sexual assault to marijuana, the camera panned to show celebrities laughing at his jokes. Two people in particular the camera focused on were Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey. Both Streep and Winfrey have been vocal figures in standing against the power dynamic of Hollywood. Oprah went on to speak about the necessity for harassment to be taken seriously, and Streep had invited a gender equality activist as a guest to the event; and yet, these two, as well as countless other men and women who have stood up against the lighthearted view of sexual assault, continued to laugh.

Alleged victims of the Hollywood elite—like Rose McGowan, who began to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault in the 1990s—were not invited to the event. Instead of honoring their bravery for stepping forward, they were shut out of the industry they are responsible for reforming.

Does Hollywood really care about the victims? Or are they just trying to make it look like they care? Caring about a life-altering issue typically does not include giving a speech about the time for assault being over, immediately after applauding and cheering jokes about rape.

If celebrities feel that it is a cause worth fighting against, why do they perpetuate the stigma associated with sexual assault? According to the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, most victims of sexual assault do not report the incident due to a fear that their experiences won’t be taken seriously. If celebrities continue to treat sexual assault as nothing more than a punchline of a joke, rather than the serious issue that it is, victims will continue to hesitate coming forward. Due to this fear, it is estimated by the MCASA that only nine percent of all rapists face prosecution, and only three percent face any time in prison.

The lighthearted approach to sexual harassment is being perpetuated by Hollywood. Victims, whether from inside or outside of Hollywood, are afraid to come forward due to the joking treatment of the epidemic.  Thousands of men and women who have been the victims of sexual assault refuse to bring their stories to light and their assaulters to justice. If it continues to be nothing but a punchline, progress will prove itself to be impossible, and 97 percent of rapists will continue to go unpunished.

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