From Hollywood to Capitol Hill: The Present and Future of Sexual Misconduct Accountability

By: Elise Le Sage

2017 saw an over-due shift in cultural norms. Precipitated by the surfacing of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual misconduct, powerful men are now being held accountable for their predatory sexual behavior.

Disturbingly, it seems that actions like Weinstein’s are not uncommon among members of Hollywood’s elite. The sexual abuse of women, minors, and men in the film industry has, in fact, been a well-known insider “secret” for years. With this information brought to light, the public is now demanding greater accountability for these rich and influential sexual predators, a demand that should, as many female politicians now argue, extend beyond the men on our movie screens and move to include those who run our country.

The Hollywood-initiated trend of accountability culture manifestly collided with politics on Dec 12 when Roy Moore, a Republican senatorial candidate accused of sexual assault, lost to his opponent, Jeff Sessions, in the Senate special election in Alabama. The outcome of this race spurred contention concerning how much an individual’s record of sexual misconduct and political career should intersect. While some argue that a candidate’s personal misdoings (including sexual assault) should not affect their capacity to lead in government, others, like Virginia Congressman Barbara Comstock (Rep), have witnessed the insidious reaches of rape culture in the political sphere for far too long to tolerate the current norms.

Last November, Comstock recounted a story a friend had shared about a staffer who quit after an unnamed legislator exposed himself to her. Comstock has now taken a leading role in a bipartisan effort to overhaul sexual harassment in Capitol Hill. She cosponsored a resolution last fall that requires all staffers, interns, and members of Congress complete preventative training, and she plans on moving forward with further reform.

Comstock’s efforts are joined by other politicians, such as New York Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, the first Senator to call for the resignation of Al Franken (Dem), a Minnesota Senator accused by multiple women of sexual assault. Gillibrand’s confrontation of this issue came at an important time: while she was rallying against the behavior of this fellow party member, President Trump was endorsing Roy Moore in the then-undecided Alabama Senatorial race. Trump’s backing of Moore called attention to the President’s own history as a perpetrator of sexual violence. Trump, accused by a number of women of sexual assault, is on Gillibrand’s list of politicians who should suffer the consequences of their violent misogyny. Some speculate that Gillibrand’s censure of the President and his record of assault place her as a likely and potentially powerful candidate for the 2020 presidential race. Could this Hollywood-spurred cultural shift really be so far-reaching that it enters the oval office?

Indeed, we as a nation are urged to recall the surfacing of the 2005 audio clip wherein our current President boasts of kissing and groping woman without their consent. This tape emerged before the 2016 election, and nevertheless failed to prevent a self-proclaimed assaulter from entering office. Would the public’s reception of both this recording and the allegations that followed have been different if the post-Weinstein upheaval of rape culture had taken place a year earlier?

The recent shift in expected repercussions for powerful sexual assailants has without a doubt made the actions of sexual predators more visible. Now, our nation is faced with a decisive cultural question. Are we going to swallow this visibility with inaction? Or- at the career expense of not only our feted entertainers, but of the men who run our country- will we demand accountability for sexual crimes?