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As Weinstein Allegations Grow, Male Victims Of Sexual Abuse Speak Out


We're going to go back now to the story that's dominated news out of Hollywood these last few weeks. And this is a story, because of the content, that might be inappropriate or upsetting for some listeners. By now, you surely know of the allegations that the powerhouse Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein pressured women for sex and even sexually assaulted them over the course of his decades-long career. Weinstein has acknowledged inappropriate behavior but continues to claim that he believes his sexual encounters were consensual. Yesterday, in an unusual move, the Motion Picture Academy voted to expel him immediately.

Now, while the allegations are shocking, they are sadly familiar - the story of a man accused of abusing his power to extract sexual favors from women. But there's a different element of the story that we want to highlight now - about men experiencing abuse. Today, The Washington Post reports on men who say that Weinstein bullied and even physically attacked them. Actors Terry Crews and James Van Der Beek both tweeted about being the targets of inappropriate sexual conduct by unnamed entertainment executives.

And those comments got us thinking about why we don't hear more about men and boys who may have experienced abuse, so we called Helen Benedict. She is a professor of journalism at Columbia University, and she is the author of several books about this subject. She's with us now from Columbia University. Professor Benedict, thanks so much for speaking with us.

HELEN BENEDICT: Thank you for inviting me.

MARTIN: Do you find in your reporting that there are circumstances about men being - men and boys being targets of abuse that are distinct from that we find with women and girls?

BENEDICT: The impulse is pretty much the same - to abuse power. You make yourself feel powerful by degrading others. It's the same impulse that torture is used. You know, most torturers use sexual humiliation as part of their tools to torture.

MARTIN: So turning back to the Weinstein story, Terry Crews tweeted about his fear of being - quote, unquote - "ostracized" if he pursued any further action against an executive that he said groped him last year. James Van Der Beek - when he said he'd been groped many times as a young actor, tweeted that, quote, "there's a power dynamic that feels impossible to overcome." And hearing these men talk about this, it sounds, as you said, you know, very similar to what the women said, which is that they felt like, if I speak up, then I'm going to pay the price for this.

BENEDICT: Exactly. And assailants are very careful usually to make sure you will feel that way. I mean, they'll often threaten you overtly. If you tell, I'll ruin your career. If you tell, I'll spread the story that you came on to me. But then when you add to it a whole institution - a powerful institution like Hollywood, the entertainment industry, the military, a campus, where you have the power to kick somebody out or ruin their career or otherwise get them into terrible trouble - that just enhances the power of the assailant.

MARTIN: And I want to - I'm curious about the whole Terry Crews situation too because, as you may know, you know, he's very muscular. He looks very strong, and he's 6-foot-4. And he talked about that in one of his tweets. He talked about feeling that he would then receive the backlash if he somehow retaliated, you know, physically. You figure if Terry Crews wanted to physically defend himself, you figure he surely could have.

BENEDICT: That is something that happens to men much more, the idea that they failed as men because they failed - in quotes - "to fight back and defend themselves." You know, men are supposed to be able to do that. And a man who's grown up big and strong especially expects to be able to do that himself.

MARTIN: Well, as a person who has covered these stories for years now, for quite some time now, is there anything that you want to highlight about the way this Harvey Weinstein story is unfolding? It's certainly not the first time we've heard this in recent years. I mean, the Bill Cosby story comes to mind, where, you know, literally dozens of women say that they were sexually assaulted by this, you know, tremendously influential, you know, Hollywood, you know, figure. And then, of course, we've seen in recent years, you know, Roger Ailes at Fox News and so forth. But do you think anything is different now, or is anything going to be different?

BENEDICT: I see each time we get a wave of one of these stories, you know, where a series of assaults has been exposed, usually committed by someone in power, and more and more and more victims speak up because they're giving each other courage. It's the same pattern that happens every time. I think each time this happens, we take a step forward because it invites discussions like we're having right now to explore why it happens and how it affects people. And, you know, even if it's forgotten somewhat in between the waves, still we've moved the conversation forward a bit.

MARTIN: Helen Benedict is an author of several books that touch on the issue of sexual abuse. Her latest book actually is a novel, it's called "Wolf Season." She joined us from the studios of Columbia University in New York City. Helen Benedict, thanks so much for speaking with us.

BENEDICT: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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