Editorials

Pushback against sexual abuse

  • Indefensible indiscretion: Russell Simmons chose not to defend himself against allegations of sexual abuse but promptly stepped back from his many business interests. HBO also began the process of dissociating itself from him (File photograph by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)

“If you know something, say something.”

Such a statement is normally couched in pleas from the police in the wake of yet another gun murder as Bermuda has struggled to come to grips with gang violence over the past decade or more.

But the raft of sexual harassment stories that have come out of Hollywood in recent times, beginning with disgraced director Harvey Weinstein and with no end in sight, forces us to take account of best practices here and to ensure that there are no skeletons lying dormant in our closet.

The saying goes that if the United States sneezes, Bermuda catches a cold.

It is time, then, with the conversations of sex abuse and sexual harassment hitting our shores that we get the Kleenex and decongestants out, for surely we cannot be immune to the behaviours that have ensnared Weinstein and a list growing daily to include high-profile characters the likes of Brett Ratner, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman and, most recently, Russell Simmons, the man behind the hip-hop music label Def Jam Records.

Simmons, the older brother of Rev Run of Run DMC, who performed in Bermuda at the 35th America’s Cup, crossed over into mainstream entertainment when he and Stan Lathan produced the hit series Def Comedy Jam on HBO followed by Def Poetry Jam, before Simmons co-produced the hit film The Nutty Professor, starring Eddie Murphy.

By 2011 estimates, Simmons has a net worth of $340 million.

In an April 1887 letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton of the Church of England, John Dalberg, a Roman Catholic advocating for universal moral standards, wrote: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

That said, on Thursday after actress Jenny Lumet accused Simmons of assaulting her in 1991, he immediately fell on his sword and stepped down from his businesses. HBO followed suit yesterday by removing his name and likeness from his stand-up comedy specials, beginning with episodes that aired yesterday.

The timeliness of the foundation of the Bermuda Working Women Institute by Tinée Furbert and Simone Smith Bean, albeit four years ago, is apt in that the Western world is finally taking a much closer look at the abuse of women in the workplace.

These women and others like them are to be commended for providing a platform and for standing up for those who might otherwise have accepted that it was their lot to be the object of lecherous glances or worse from men in positions of power.

The Human Rights Act, whose public profile has been exercised most in relation to same-sex marriage, provides protections for the fairer sex — it is now on the fairer sex to blow the whistle strengthened by the new-found belief that their cries will be answered.

For the men who have perpetrated these deeds over the years and appear to have got away with it — many times oblivious that you are committing offence — now is the time to clean up your acts.

Whether or not there are women in our community who are minded to seek retroactive retribution in the halls of power, what is happening to our west should be warning enough that times have changed — and for the better.

With Christmas around the corner, the Bermuda Employers’ Council took what years ago might have been considered the extraordinary measure of warning employers yesterday to minimise the risk of sexual harassment during office party season.

It will take a total effort, and sure there are bound to be cases where the defendant has no case to answer. But better for there to be a case than for nothing to happen at all.