Last week in our Year Two SASAH class, Joel had Allison Pryde come in to talk to us about sexual violence and consent. Allison Pryde is an accomplished person, studying philosophy and women’s studies, getting her MA, working for the Sexual Assault Centre of London. Her presentation and the conversation it created was interesting. I have been taught about consent and sexual violence before, but never in this way.
The real thing I remember, even a few days later, is the conversation we had about celebrities and sexual violence. Over the years, countless celebrities have been accused of sexually assaulting people. Among those accused: Johnny Depp, Louis C.K., Donald Trump, Jian Ghomeshi, Chris Brown, Woody Allen, and Bill Cosby. While these cases are not all the same, the fact remains that these men were all accused of violating the rights of a woman.
The thing about our society is that we are hypocritical when it comes to celebrity assault cases. When they first go public, everyone is quick to hate the person, to write tweets about their disgust, to create petitions to have them arrested. And then, we pass judgement on the victim; we accuse them of lying. And we let that celebrity continue their careers: they resume their music lives and to become President of the United States. It’s sickening, but it’s the truth.
For example, Donald Trump. We all remember his campaign and the now famous (infamous?) recording of him saying some horrendous things about a woman. Outrage ensued…for a little while. And then he won the election.
Take Bill Cosby. Someone accused him of sexual violence and there was an outcry. Then, more people came forward to accuse him and society deemed them all liars. He lost some honorary degrees and had to cancel a few interviews, but he’ll be fine.
People deserve to be believed. They deserve to be trusted. Sexual assault cases, and especially ones that involve famous people, are the only criminal cases that place the burden of proof on the victim. Nobody asks a murder victim or a theft victim to proof that it wasn’t their fault this crime was committed against them. People would call that insane. So why don’t we when it’s sexual violence?
The real insanity is people who pass judgement on the people who accuse other people of assault. We need to view them as people, not celebrities. That is the only way to be fair. And until people stop sexually assaulting people (famous or not famous), as a society we need to work on how we view both sides of the case.
Allison said something to us at the end of that class that has stayed in my mind ever since: she said that sexual “assault is about power, not about sex”. And that is why these celebrities, these men, repeatedly win: they are powerful.
Contact Sexual Assault Centre of London
For immediate help, call 911.
24 Hour Crisis and Support Line: (519) 438-2272
Ligne de Soutien Pour Femmes Francophones Victimes de Violence:
24h sur 24, 7 sur 7: 1-877-336-2433
Office hours: Monday to Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm.
255 Horton Street, 3rd Floor, Suite 5
London, Ontario, Canada