Allegations of sexual harassment have been leveled against men from some of the nation’s most powerful institutions — Congress, Hollywood, the news media — and with each accusation, the women are getting the benefit of the doubt.
Even before explicit details emerged about the alleged actions of Matt Lauer, who was fired by NBC on Wednesday, social media users had presumed his guilt. Like others before him, he was quickly relegated to the long list of prominent men whose reputations were forever changed.
So, after decades of doubting accusers, have the scales finally tipped in favor of the females?
Experts say no.
Mary Ebeling, director of women’s and gender studies at Drexel University, said she believes the firings of powerful men — including Lauer from NBC — are less about the institutions looking out for women and more a result of institutions looking out for themselves.
“One of the things that I have found very frustrating in watching all of this unfold is that it seems it’s not about getting justice for the survivors and victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace,” she said. “This is about scoring political points and institutions protecting themselves.
“If workers in hotels were getting the same kind of swift justice, or farm laborers, then I would say, ‘Yeah, OK, accusers are finally being believed.’ But I don’t see it.”
Edith Pearce, a Philadelphia attorney who represents victims of workplace sexual harassment, said she often still hears the same questions: Why did they put up with harassment for so long? Why didn’t they come forward sooner?
“To a degree, that is still blaming the victim,” she said.
The movement to call out sexual harassment started in October after The New York Times exposed allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, resulting in his firing. The story led to the viral hashtag #metoo and helped convince many women — and some men — to come forward with their own experiences of sexual abuse or harassment.
Among the prominent individuals who have since been accused: actor Kevin Spacey, who was let go from the Netflix series House of Cards; anchor Charlie Rose, who was fired from CBS; U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.), who on Monday apologized amid allegations he had groped women.
On Wednesday, Minnesota Public Radio also announced it had fired Garrison Keillor, former host of A Prairie Home Companion, amid allegations he touched a woman’s bare back.
Earlier in the day, news of Lauer’s behavior from NBC shocked fans of the Today show in the Philadelphia area.
“Never did I ever think I’d see the headline ‘NBC: Lauer Fired For Inappropriate SEXUAL Behavior,” one person wrote on Twitter. Another said of Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct: “My mom is crying because she really thought he was different.”
I loved watching the Today Show with my mom as a kid, and never did I ever think I’d see the headline “NBC: Lauer Fired For “Inappropriate SEXUAL Behavior” #sicksadworld
— Chey Stew (@chey_stew) November 29, 2017
Matt Lauer was fired from the Today Show for multiple reports of sexual misconduct and my mom is crying because she really thought he was different
— isabelle gil (@gilyourself) November 29, 2017
NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack sent a memo to employees informing them of Lauer’s termination, noting the Today show host was fired following a serious review of a “detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.”
The complaint was the first of its kind against Lauer, Lack told employees, but the network had reason to believe it wasn’t an “isolated incident.”
Variety reported later Wednesday that Lauer had previously flashed a female colleague and given another a sex toy.
OMG 😮 Not my silver fox Matt Lauer has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. I don’t believe it, he can do no wrong in my eyes. He’s one of the reasons why I watch the Today Show religiously. I’m sad 😢 😞 😔
— Mo2The (@MomoDntPlayDat) November 29, 2017
— TMR Media Creative (@TMRMediaCreate) November 29, 2017
Philadelphia attorneys Jared A. Jacobson and Franklin J. Rooks Jr., who handle sexual harassment cases, said efforts to quickly respond and bring attention to allegations are good. But the treatment of victims — and victim-blaming — still remains an obstacle in many cases, they said.
They recalled one case in which they said a hospital worker complained about a coworker inappropriately grabbing her, only for supervisors to normalize the coworker’s conduct and insist he was just being himself.
“As long as people are people,” Rooks Jr. said, “sexual harassment will be there.”