Tag Archives: sexual predators

Here’s Something The News Media Hasn’t Explained Regarding The Weinstein Scandal: Those Victim Confidentiality Agreements Are Unethical, And Maybe Illegal

Rose McGowan, the new Sexual Harassment Fury on social media, says she was raped by Weinstein and had to accept a $100,000 settlement with a confidentiality agreement as a condition of the deal. That means that if she subsequently told her story and accused Weinstein, she would be liable for damages, and would have to return the money. Right?

Not exactly. Most of the accounts in this sordid series of events make it seem like confidentiality agreements are iron clad and enforceable. Often they are neither. McGowan’s almost certainly wasn’t.

Debra Katz, an attorney specializing in sexual harassment law suits, recently explained that if employees or former employees came forward with information about Weinstein participating in criminal misconduct, their non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality agreements would probably be unenforceable, saying,

“These kind of very broad NDAs or confidentiality agreements typically violate public policy. Employees have to have the legal ability to discuss any concerns about unlawful behavior in the workplace … These broad provisions that would effectively silo people, make them feel like they can’t speak about this, are simply an instrument to put fear in people.”

My position has always been that lawyers who construct such agreements, knowing that they are unenforceable, are committing sanctionable ethical misconduct. The lawyer for the employee being silenced, moreover, has an obligation to let the client know that the requirement is unconscionable. Of course, it’s the client’s decision whether she wants to take the money.  It is also unethical to make an agreement you have no intention of honoring. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/13/17: All Aboard The Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck!

Good Morning, Hollywood!

I’m sorry to bombard you with this ugly topic again first thing, but I’d like to stop having to think about it as soon as possible.

1 My sister, a committed Democrat who naturally prefers that damning stories about her favorite politicians go down the memory hole as soon as possible, complained yesterday that she didn’t understand why Harvey’s demise was such a long-running story. He’s a pig, we’ve seen it before, he’s fired, big deal, she protested. There are more important things going on.

There are undoubtedly more important things going on, but from an ethics perspective, the importance of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck and who boards it (and who has been riding it for decades) is as significant and chock full of lessons as a story can get. The Penn State-Jerry Sandusky-Joe Paterno scandal was important for some of the same reasons. It exposed the tendency of organizations to become corrupted when non-ethical considerations, usually money, freeze the clappers on multiple ethics alarms. It showed how “virtuous” people with power and influence can betray their values, admirers and supporters in the pursuit of personal or organizational goals. It showed how even usually complacent and biased journalists will suddenly become responsible when the details are juicy enough…and how some won’t. The Sandusky saga also was one more clue to how inherently warped an entire industry’s culture—in that case, big time college football—was (and is).

The Weinstein Train Wreck is worse, however, and also more significant. Weinstein is typical—extreme, perhaps, but typical—of  a popular and glamorous industry that has abused power to debase and exploit women for a century. The trade-offs and incentives turned many of the abused women into accessories of future crimes against other women, while some women, too powerful to have to fear the consequences of doing the obviously right thing, chose to protect the community and the industry rather than human beings. That they, and complicit men in the industry as well, did this while spending the past six years making angry public speeches about the sexist and misogynist attitude of Republicans flagged the kind of hypocrisy that demands substantive consequences.

It also demands reform. Anyone who  thinks Hollywood is going to retire the casting couch because of one especially disgusting and prolific predator is kidding themselves. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination is rampant at every level of the performing arts, from high school theater up through Broadway, and on to Hollywood. I question whether that culture will ever change significantly. At least this episode might educate the public that if they take moral grandstanding from the likes of John Legend, Meryl Streep and Jimmy Kimmel seriously, they are asking to be betrayed and disillusioned.

And that doesn’t even reach the political hypocrisy exhibited by the Democratic Party and progressives, which embraced and celebrated a sexual predator from Hollywood because he gave them money, just as they have been giving a sexual predator from Arkansas the King’s Pass on similar conduct because he gave them power. As long as the only voices calling attention to this are from the Right,  count on progressives to ignore or minimize the issue. After all, conservatives and Republicans accepted the devil’s bargain in allying themselves with Roger Ailes. Still, the criticism of the party and predator enablers like Hillary Clinton needs to come from the Left to do any lasting good. So far there has been some criticism from that direction, but not nearly enough.

2. Weinstein’s contract with The Weinstein Company  included a clause that allowed  his sexual harassment as long as he paid the costs of settlements out of his own pocket, TMZ reported yesterday. So much for the sham posture that the company was shocked and disgusted at his conduct. Poor Donna Brazile, desperately trying to join the futile virtue signalling by hypocrites who have been cheering on Hillary and her husband for decades, tweeted her admiration for the TWC board thusly

…only to have to delete the tweet later. Did Donna really believe that the TWC board, including Harvey’s brother, didn’t know what Weinstein was doing? Is she that stupid?

3. A lot of contentious debate on this topic at Ethics Alarms has arisen regarding the complicity and obligations of various Hollywood actresses. There are different categories, and conflating them only leads to confusion. Here are the categories and subcategories:

A. The powerless victims of harassment These are the young, aspiring actresses who were propositioned or assaulted by Weinstein, and convinced, rightly or not, that they would never have a chance if they complained

These are the equivalents of Bill Cosby’s victims, who only came forward after their abuser was wounded and vulnerable.

A 1. Powerless victims who accepted cash settlements. This means that since other remedies were unavailable to them, they at least triggered some kind of punishment and compensation. This required, however, allowing future victims to go unwarned, since the pay-offs were accompanied by confidentiality agreements.

B. Victims who were not powerless, due to connections in the industry. I place actresses like Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow in this category.

C. Victims who, over time, became powerful, wealthy, popular and influential enough that they could have exposed Weinstein, if they chose, but didn’t.

C 1 Victims who received cash settlements when powerless but whose careers  progressed to the point that they could forfeit the cash and accept any legal consequences of breaking the contractual agreements.

D. Rape victims. Sexual harassment is a civil offense; rape is a crime. Many rapes can be substantiated by medical examinations, and rapists are dangerous. Accepting a cash settlement for not reporting one’s rape when the rape could have been substantiated—this is what Rose McGowan did—is a breach of multiple civic duties.

E. Women in the industry who became aware of Weinstein’s conduct and did nothing about it.

F. Women in the industry who became aware of Weinstein’s conduct,  did nothing about it, and continued to praise him in public.

G. Actresses who accepted Weinstein’s proffered bargain, and exchanged sexual favors for roles and contracts, turning what is laughably regarded a a meritocracy into sexual commerce. We don’t know who these women are, but it strains credulity to think there were none.

Of course, many male Hollywood figures also fall into categories E and F.

Categories C, EF and G are the most unethical categories. D is problematic as well.

4. Jane Fonda revealed to Christiane Amanpour that she is in category E. She “found out about Harvey about a year ago,” said the certified Hollywood royalty, outspoken feminist and progressive champion.  “I’m ashamed that I didn’t say anything right then,” Fonda said. 

Well, that’s nice. As long as she is ashamed.

We can proclaim our principles and values all our lives, but if we don’t act according to them when the lives of others are at stake, all of what went before is meaningless. How many women suffered at Weinstein’s hands after Jane knew? Continue reading

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Lessons And Notes From The Harvey Weinstein Fiasco

The latest development in the rapid fall of Hollywood independent film mogul and lionized Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein: The board of his own company, The Weinstein Company, just fired him.

You should read the New York Times’ damning story, following an investigation, about the extent of Weinstein’s long reign of misogynist terror in Hollywood. I don’t care to re-hash it. Note, as you read, that as disgusting as it is, more disgusting stories have come out since it was published. For example, a TV journalist now says that Weinstein once trapped her in the hallway of a restaurant that was closed to the public and masturbated in front of her until he ejaculated.  She says she told friends about the episode, but remained quiet because “she was in a long-term relationship” and was “fearful of the power that Weinstein wielded in the media.”

  • WHAT? She withheld this story for a decade because she was fearful, thus allowing Weinstein to abuse how many other women? Hundreds? I’d love to ask her if a powerful individual, in her opinion, could have done anything that would have caused her to make the effort to overcome her fear and self-interest. Someone who would act as she describes is pathological. What she endured was a criminal act. This is signature significance, is it not? Does a civilized, trustworthy, non-sociopath sicko ever do such a thing even once, on the worst day of his life? “I’m sorry I trapped you and masturbated in front of you; it wasn’t the best choice, and anyone can make a mistake.”

The man is and was dangerous. The woman had a citizen’s duty to report this to the police; I don’t care how powerful he was.

  • And, apparently, dozens of actresses had experiences, if not quite that horrifying, horrifying enough. In the Times report, we learn that Weinstein invited Angry Progressive Feminist Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel 20 years ago for what she thought would be a breakfast meeting about her career. Weinstein had her sent to his hotel suite, where he greeted the actress in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage. She told The Times that he then proposed that she watch him shower. Now she tells us this? Now, after she excoriated the President on the Mall, using obscene terms to cheer on  “resistance” “pussy- hat marchers  in January and speculate about the President’s Trump’s wet dreams about his own daughter?  Judd  said she kept quiet to avoid alienating Harvey Weinstein because she was just at the beginning of her career—you know, like all of those Cosby victims. What’s her excuse for the rest of the 20 years, allowing more young actresses to be extorted into sexual submission? Larry O’Connor has the (revolting) answer, I think. In a piece for Mediaite, he writes of Judd,

Has she channeled that anger and humiliation and fear at the industry that allowed it? Or at the man and his multi-million dollar corporation that enabled it? No. Her real enemies are Republicans. Don’t you get it?

So the not-so-hidden message in Weinstein’s non-apology statement was “Hey, remember, I supported Hillary and Obama and I raise millions for Democrats and I’ll help destroy the NRA and Trump. I may treat you like shit, but my heart is in the right place. Now get your knee pads on.”

In Hollywood, being liberal means never having to say you’re sorry.

Judd has been praised for having the courage to tell her story now…when Weinstein is elderly and his power is waning, knowing the he was about to be exposed. No, this is an example of Rationalization #22, “It’s not the worst thing.” Yes, Judd is not as bad as the many, many actresses who kept quiet about this sexual predator, endangering others, who still are mum. Whoopie! Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/6/17: Pigs And Hypocrites

Good Morning!

(and thank heaven THAT week is over with…)

1 There will be a full post on the Harvey Weinstein matter later today, but let’s get his vomit-inducing statement to the Times out of the way. If you are late to this party, Weinstein has been a powerful Hollywood producer and power-broker for decades, as well as a high profile supporter of the Democratic party, the Clintons, and Barack Obama. In a New York Times exposé yesterday, he was also revealed as a serial sexual abuser and harasser, whose conduct and cover-ups his industry and the politicians who received and accepted his checks were almost certainly aware of. More of that later; let’s look at the mogul’s response to the Times story. You can read the whole nauseating thing here. I’ll focus on these lowlights…

I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then. I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office – or out of it. To anyone.

Sexual harassment has been unambiguously condemned in our law and culture for more than 30 years.  This is a weak “Everybody used to do it” excuse. When did he “learn” it’s not an excuse? If he knows it’s not an excuse, why is he offering it as an excuse?

My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons. Over the last year I’ve asked Lisa Bloom to tutor me and she’s put together a team of people. I’ve brought on therapists and I plan to take a leave of absence from my company and to deal with this issue head on. I so respect all women and regret what happened. I hope that my actions will speak louder than words and that one day we will all be able to earn their trust and sit down together with Lisa to learn more.

I don’t even know how to describe this, except that more blatant BS I have seldom read in my life.  Who is supposed to be convinced by such transparent “Damn! I’m caught! How can I pretend I’m sorry?” blather?

Here’s the pièce de résistance, though: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/28/17

Good Morning!

Thanks for dropping by.

1. Does anyone else wonder how John McCain would have voted last night if President Trump hadn’t gratuitously insulted his military service and suffering as a prisoner of war? I do. I know how much veterans care about their service and sacrifice on behalf of their country, and how deeply a public insult like Trump’s must have hurt. McCain has been seething all of this time. Maybe last night was a vote based on principle; probably McCain thinks it is. There is no doubt, however, that he hates Trump’s guts intensely, and that kind of bias is almost impossible to banish entirely. He is also probably more than a little angry that his colleagues and his party allowed someone who would treat him that way to be the nominee.

The astounding foolishness of Trump’s initial insult to McCain was framed as an insult to veterans, but the fee for his gratuitous nastiness was always going to come due in a setting like last night. Human nature can’t be taken out of politics; in fact, politics relies on human nature. These people aren’t automatons. It would be ethical to put grudges aside, but nobody should count on it.

The President reportedly called McCain to argue for a “yes” vote. I wonder if the Senator said, Scaramucci style, “Mr. President, this unheroic prisoner of war says, with all due respect, ‘Go fuck yourself.'”

I also wonder if Trump learned anything.

Nah. Continue reading

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Ethics Quote Of The Month: Judge John Boccabella

“[These defendants are] good people who made a terrible mistake…Why no one made a phone call to police is beyond me.”

—-Dauphin County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas Judge John Boccabella,  as he sentenced three former Pennsylvania State University officials, including  former university president  Graham B. Spanier, to jail terms last week for doing nothing after they were informed that told in 2001 that a former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, had been seen molesting a boy in a locker room shower. Sandusky was found guilty of subsequently molesting many other children.

Of course he’s good person—just look at the guy!

This is, of course, the last act of the Joe Paterno/Penn State/Jerry Sandusky tragedy, which burgeoned into an Ethics Train Wreck and occupied as much attention on Ethics Alarms as any other event in the blog’s history. You can review all of that here, if you have the interest or the time.

Right now I want to ponder the judge’s statement with a few questions and observations….

1. By what standard can the judge call this “a mistake’? This is like George Costanza in “Seinfeld” asking his boss if having sex on his desl with the office cleaning woman was wrong, as if the option posed a legitimate puzzle at the time he did it. Was it a mistake because Sandusky turned out to be a serial child predator rather than just trying it out that one time? Was it a mistake because for once the justice system held a university president and other administrators criminally responsible when they looked the other way to protect their precious institution while endangering innocent children? Did Spanier et al. make a “mistake” in calculating the odds? Was the  alleged “mistake” not understanding that “I saw Jerry a huge 50-year old man naked in a shower with a little boy” meant that something was amiss? Do you really believe that was how these men were thinking? Did the judge?

2. Why does the judge say these were good people? Because they had responsible, prestigious jobs? Because people trusted them? Because they are white, or wealthy, or have no criminal records? There are millions of prison inmats who have done less damage than Spanier, Peterno and the rest. Are the good too? Better than the Penn State enablers?

3. It your ethics alarm fails when it is most essential that it ring like crazy, what good is it?

_______________________

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times

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“The Keepers,” The Catholic Church, And Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

I began watching Netflix’s new “true crime” series “The Keepers” last night. I may not last through all seven episodes. In addition to the documentary story-telling methodology, which moves at the pace of a slug-race, the story of how unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun might  be part of  (yet another) horrific cover-up by the Catholic Church made me so angry and frustrated that I quit in the middle of the third episode. The series makes the case that the nun, Sister Catherine “Cathy” Cesnik, was killed because she was about  to reveal ongoing sexual abuse of young teenage girls by the priest running the Archbishop Keough High School for girls.

The abuse and the extent of it is not speculation. As in so many other places, the Catholic Church in Baltimore eventually paid millions in damages to multiple victims of multiple predator priests who the Church moved around the  region—so they could molest and assault new victims—rather than handing them over to law enforcement. It is hard to imagine any priest worse than Father Joseph Maskell, however, if even some of the allegations against him are true. Victims say he used student files and illicit police connections to target teenage girls who were already being sexually abused. He manipulated them using a sick combination of religion, guilt, hypnotism and intimidation, sexually abused them, and even delivered some over to members of the Baltimore police department for more abuse.

The documentary focuses on the school’s Class of ’69, though there must have been equally abused girls before and after. The conspiracy of silence began to crack in 1992, when an especially  victimized member of the class suddenly realized that she had repressed memories of horrible experiences, and finally complained to the Baltimore Archdiocese, setting off the kind of despicable Church defensive strategies too familiar to anyone who has seen “Spotlight.”

This documentary isn’t good for my state of mind. It makes me wonder not only if all is lost, but also if all wasn’t lost long ago. I was raised in a largely Catholic community. I am not religious, but as an ethicist I recognize the important, civilizing role religion has played in teaching and enforcing moral principles for the majority of the public for whom ethical analysis is too challenging. Episodes like the Father Maskell scandal raise questions that I rebuke myself for asking, like “How can this be?” “Jane Doe,” the star witness in the documentary, is still a devout Catholic. Her immediate response to every dilemma is to pray. I don’t get it. She was savaged, threatened and abused by a priest that she knows the Church allowed to prey on the vulnerable students entrusted to him. Why would she still trust the Catholic Church?

Why would anyone? Continue reading

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