The recent months of revelations of sexual abuse throughout society reveal one common denominator: the abusers’ reliance upon organizational power to protect them. (We’ve long known that sexual predators are driven by their need to demonstrate their power. The sex is incidental to them. Evidently, organizations feel a similar need to preserve and exert their powers.)
The recent outcry originated in Hollywood, which is fortunate since well-known women speaking out against abusers gave other women the courage to speak up. Some of the earliest echoes came from the Air Force Academy, which seems to have a tradition of assaulting women students and then blaming and shaming them out of the Academy. Their complaints were not pursued; they were not protected from retaliation. Any investigation would have threatened the power structure. Such abuse and cover-ups evidently extend throughout the services. And it was reported that sexual assaults, up four years in succession at West Point, had nearly doubled during the last school year from the previous. And, make no mistake, a cover-up equals condoning since it gives the predator free rein.
“Me, Too” and “Time’s Up” movements have exposed many once-powerful entertainment moguls as the despicable abusers they are and forced reassessments of once-revered figures whose histories of bad behavior were not industry secrets but just ignored. Harvey Weinstein has been the poster predator for the Hollywood uprising.
Recently, I stumbled across the movie, “Teachers,” from the 1980’s, featuring several actors who became much more famous and others whose stars faded. Trying to recognize familiar faces that were much younger than they are now (I can relate to that), I picked up a movie guide for a more complete cast listing. As always happens when I make that move, my eyes wandered around the page, falling quickly to “Teaching Mrs. Tingle,” a 1999 comedy about some students getting a very just revenge on one of the meanest teachers (Helen Mirren) in screen history. The student star was Katie Holmes, but seeing the listing reminded me of one of her co-conspirators, Marisa Coughlan. Cute right on up to fully beautiful, Coughlan had a short-lived cable drama and some recurring episodes of Boston Legal and Bones. But what happened to her?
She crossed paths with Harvey Weinstein.
As related in The Hollywood Reporter, after meeting in passing at a restaurant, Weinstein called her to “set a meeting to figure out how to continue to work together,” according to THR’s Chris Gardner. At the meeting, ignoring Coughlan’s notebook full of ideas and projects, Weinstein told her “that Miramax had a film in development and that ‘he wanted me to be the lead in that.’” Then, in Coughlan’s own words: “He told me that he has a lot of ‘special friends’ and they give each other massages….It was a full-court press. He wanted me to be one of his ‘special friends’ and go into the bedroom. I told him that I had a serious boyfriend and reminded him that he was married and that we should keep this professional. I was so blindsided. Not one ounce of me anticipated it. It was the weirdest meeting I’ve ever had in my life.”
Weinstein continued his pursuit; Coughlan kept him at a distance, but agreed to another meeting in a public setting – and he propositioned her again. “It was super uncomfortable, remember,” she said, “because I was employed by his studio at the time. He seemed so flabbergasted that I wasn’t going to go there. I was shocked that he was shocked.” He had the power to control her career.
In her favor, Coughlan (another Jean Arthur as far as looking younger than she is) was 25 at the time she played that high school girl. Her extra maturity was likely her saving grace. Coughlan managed to keep working – though her credit list is much shorter than it should be – while also marrying her high school sweetheart and having three children. She was still gorgeous at 40 (I couldn’t verify a picture from the last three years) and “now also works as a writer,” according to THR – hinting that the notebook she brought to her first Weinstein meeting might have been worth investigating. But, she can never recover the dozen or so years as a spunky ingénue delighting millions that she lost because of her integrity.
With its façade stripped clean, its power in pieces, the Weinstein Company has announced plans to file for bankruptcy.
When asked what he thought when the first accusations against Weinstein appeared, President Trump replied, “I’ve known Harvey Weinstein a long time. I’m not at all surprised to see it.” Takes one to know one, I guess. Nearly two dozen women have come forward with abuse allegations against our president, who, of course, bragged that his celebrity status gave him the power to assault women at will.
Am I the only one who can see these two blustering braggarts sharing “locker room talk” of their “conquests?” (And, Salma Hayek has both a disgusting story about Weinstein and a creepy, stalking one involving Trump.) Then, we get reports from the Wall Street Journal of Trump’s lawyer paying a porn star $130,000 for silence in the weeks before last year’s election regarding their sexual relationship in 2006, while Melania was recovering from giving birth to Barron.
Nothing speaks more of power in this country than money. Enough to buy what you want – and ensure that no one knows about it.
In true Trump fashion (“true Trump” being surprisingly accurate), he denounced Sen. Al Franken along with other celebrity predators who have been outed – except for accused child molester Roy Moore, whose vote he wanted for his Enrich-the-Rich tax proposals. And of course, all of his accusers are “liars.” Even more powerful than fakality TV stars or presidents, religious authorities often claim divine sanctions for their inactions.
The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of covering up sexual abuses committed by its priests, right up to the current Pope accusing Chileans of “slander” for complaining about his promotion of a bishop accused of covering up abuses by one of his mentors. Imagine faithful Catholics trying to stand up to the power of God’s earthly representative. But, they did. It turns out the evidence against the bishop was hand-delivered to the Pope several years ago. And, of course, it’s not only the Catholic Church wielding ungodly power to protect itself.
Rev. Andy Savage, pastor at a Memphis megachurch, has the full support of Highpoint Church, according to lead pastor Chris Conlee, after it surfaced that 20 years ago he had coerced a 17-year-old high school girl into sex acts while he was serving as youth pastor in Texas. He denies none of the accusations, but assures us he “acted in a “biblical way” by asking for forgiveness. Church leaders did nothing. The police were never called. Rev. Savage – perhaps, “the savage reverend” – suffered no consequences then or now. No church had its good name stained.
Authority figures come in many guises; predators wear many disguises.
Hundreds of young women would have been spared sexual assaults had Michigan State University acted on its first complaints against Dr. Larry Nasser. USA Gymnastics was equally negligent. Protecting institutional power came first. And we literally can’t keep up with daily revelations – from White House wife-beaters to nearby complicit prosecutors who protect the power of powerful interests.
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)