Harvey Weinstein. Roy Moore. Louis C.K. Sen. Al Franken. Kevin Spacey. President Donald Trump. That’s just off the top of my head. No, the gross crimes and actions these men have been accused of aren't the same and don't share moral equivalency. But the varying shades of sexual misconduct, assault allegations and rape charges indicate a systemic problem beyond Hollywood or Washington, D.C.
Actions from joking about rape and groping people at parties to sexual battery and predatory behavior fall on a continuum of victimization, none of which are acceptable. It's not enough to dismiss the “less terrible” actions — or dismiss those that commit them — as childish or to ignore behaviors because they happened long ago. Besides, childish? What little kid do you know jokes about assault? If you heard a kid talking that way, would you let it go?
As a country and members of the global community, we need to do several things. One, we need to educate people at a young age about respect and consent. Too often we hear of — and know of — men and women, girls and boys, who don’t fully understand how to express and receive consent.
Consent is permission. It's voluntary, knowledgeable and provided by someone old enough to give it. Therefore, a 14-year-old can't consent to a sexual act. A drunk person can't consent to a sexual act. A sleeping person can't consent to a sexual act. Without consent, a sexual act is rape.
We need to address those who refuse to understand consent, blatantly or subtly. If a guy in our group of friends keeps cracking jokes about sexual assault victims, it’s time we tell him his “humor” isn’t welcome. If our co-workers start talking about the news and accuse “those women of crying rape,” we should politely and firmly tell them how difficult it is for victims to come forward, and we should listen. If a friend explains the uncomfortable situation they were in at a party, that friend deserves our undivided attention and support.
On a macro level, we need to hold people accountable for their actions. Yes, innocent until proven guilty, but those accused of rape ought to let a judge and jury figure that out. If multiple women share stories about movie stars, even years after initial incidents, we shouldn’t ignore them for the love of celebrities. Hear them out. Hold them up. I’d rather support victims than lament losing my favorite shows as the truth comes out.
We must hold our public officials to the highest of standards. Those running for office — and those in office — accused of sexual assault should be investigated; predators don't deserve our votes, much less control over state and federal policies, public safety or social norms and customs.
It stings when someone is accused of something so heinous as sexual assault. It stings when it’s someone you once admired. But you know what stings more? The hurt directly inflicted upon the victims of these actions. We ought to find new heroes instead of shutting our eyes and making excuses.
Mia Gettenberg is a UF criminology and philosophy senior. Her column appears on Mondays.