Harvey Weinstein

OPINION

Sex addiction is not an excuse for sexual assault

Harvey Weinstein (Photo: Getty Images)

Rather than confronting the reality of Weinstein’s actions, there seems to be a desire to bend over backwards to explain them away. What's with that, asks Florence Wilkinson

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By Florence Wilkinson on

We can only begin to imagine the conversations that have been going on between Harvey Weinstein’s agents, lawyers and staff as allegation after allegation has mounted. In a desperate bid to mitigate the damage and salvage one last shred of Weinstein’s former career, someone must have floated the idea. Send him to rehab – put him in therapy – show that he’s willing to address his problems and find a cure for his behaviour. Oh, and let’s put a label on all of this – how about “sex addiction”? "Mr. Weinstein has begun counselling, has listened to the community and is pursuing a better path,” said one of his representatives on Tuesday. “Mr. Weinstein is hoping that, if he makes enough progress, he will be given a second chance.”

Meanwhile, in an office somewhere in L.A., the team around Ben Affleck has also, presumably, been going into overdrive. Sparked by the calls for male stars to come forward and condemn Weinstein’s actions, Affleck posted his own condemnation, only for it to emerge that he is guilty of sexually assaulting women too. Fortunately, Affleck and his team have a solution – you guessed it – rehab.

The press have, of course, been frenzied in their response. “HARVEY WEINSTEIN Flying to Europe Tonight FOR SEX ADDICTION REHAB”, wrote entertainment website TMZ. “Shamed movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was flying to Europe today to check into a rehab clinic for treatment for sex addiction and other behavioural issues”, wrote the Evening Standard. And yet implicit in all of this remains the idea that sex and sexual assault are one and the same. Even if we take at face value the notion that sex addiction is a diagnosable psychiatric condition (and by the way, there’s little evidence to suggest that it is) Weinstein stands accused of rape. Meanwhile press, commentators, former colleagues and celebrities are still conflating rape with sexual attraction, even as they denounce him.

But rape isn’t about sex, and it’s astonishing that in 2017 we’re still having to labour this point. Rape is about power, as Katie Russell – a spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales – affirms: “Whether he has a sex addiction or not the key is that rape and sexual assault are acts of violence – of power and control – and Weinstein has responsibility as all adults have for his own sexual behaviours. If he is guilty of the crimes of which he’s been accused he needs to take full culpability – there is no mitigation when it comes to sexual offences.”

Most people have been quick to condemn the ludicrous words of fashion designer Donna Karan, who on Sunday leapt to Weinstein’s defence, telling a Daily Mail reporter that society has questions to answer such as “how do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?” But often the language used to reinforce this conflation between sexual attraction and rape is much more subtle, which is the very thing that makes it so deep rooted.

The real fight is not over the soul of men like Harvey Weinstein – it’s for a society in which men cease to use sexual violence and aggression to hold the sway of power over women

Former New Yorker and Vanity Fair Editor Tina Brown, who ran a magazine for Weinstein between 1998 and 2002, provides a prime example of this. Brown claimed on Newsnight last night: “I did not know about this sexual wildness that was going on – that wasn’t my experience of Harvey.” “Sexual wildness” is a bizarre and wholly inappropriate way to describe the actions of someone who is facing criminal charges of rape, and Brown went on to mythologise Weinstein’s behaviour: “There is this Jekyll and Hyde thing about Harvey – but at the same time what is very interesting about him is there really are many sides to the guy… I really do think it’s about the conflict inside himself… beauty and the beast co-exist in Harvey.”

“I don’t think it is helpful to infantilise men or suggest that they’re unable to control themselves,” responds Rape Crisis’ Katie Russell when I put this point to her. “I think it’s a myth that we come up against time and again – the idea that men’s sexual desire is stronger than women’s – that they’re not able to control it and it’s somehow triggered by the behaviours of women, by the presence of women, how they dress etc. – and that it’s somehow not the man’s fault.”

Rather than confronting the reality of Weinstein’s actions, there is a desire to bend over backwards to excuse or explain them away – to draw him into some kind of fairy story where he’s part genius, part monster. Where Weinstein is Doctor Faustus, with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other fighting a battle between good and evil. But there are no excuses, and there is no mitigation – both legally, if he’s found to be guilty, and morally too. The real fight is not over the soul of men like Harvey Weinstein – it’s for a society in which men cease to use sexual violence and aggression to hold the sway of power over women.

@Flo_Wilk

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Harvey Weinstein (Photo: Getty Images)
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harvey weinstein
Harassment
Sexual assault

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