Hollywood’s Serial Sexual Offenders, and Why the First Step Towards Societal Change Is Admitting We Have a Problem

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“Harassmentgate” is making waves in Hollywood. Not only is it forcing out people who abuse their power, it’s also forcing the industry to shift gears and go into damage control overdrive. Floods of victims, both women and men, have begun coming forward, finally naming the Hollywood elite who have harassed, assaulted or demeaned them. This list includes Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, James Toback, Jeremy Piven, Ed Westwick, Ben Affleck, Andy Dick and now, Louis C.K.

The simple act of telling their stories has finally given power to the countless victims of predators who hid in plain sight. But what about people who aren’t egregious perpetrators of sexual misconduct? Men who maybe acted in a sexist way, but that was the standard. What about the men who have simply overstepped boundaries, or used their power unfairly? What are the right moves for them when the bell tolls for those who have never before been prey.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, last week, while being honored at the Paley Center for Media, Emmy-winning actor Alec Baldwin got up on his cross to confess that he, too, is guilty of behaving in a way that is overtly sexist: “I certainly have treated women in a very sexist way. I’ve bullied women. I’ve overlooked women. I’ve underestimated women. Not as a rule. From time to time, I’ve done what a lot of men do, which is… when you don’t treat women the same way you treat men. You don’t. I’m from a generation where you really don’t, and I’d like that to change. I really would like that to change.”

Although the sentiment is respectable, admittance isn’t absolution. If forgiveness is what men want, then they have to do the work to be forgiven. They have to admit the things things they’ve done so that society at large can become the watchdog Hollywood needs. They just need to stop acting in a way that is discriminatory.

Ben Affleck followed suit a few days later, telling the Associated Press he too wants to be a part of the solution. Which is great, everyone should want to stop behaving in ways that aren’t just discriminatory, but predatory. Here’s the thing, confessing won’t change the backlash or the blacklisting. Especially if you’re a man with a history showing a pattern of discriminatory behavior. Because, it turns out, if you’re guilty of treating people like objects, you deserve to suffer the consequences once your actions are exposed.

To be fair, we shouldn’t lump everyone together. There’s a big difference between assault, sexual assault, and harassment — even if most people would struggle to explain exactly what that difference is.

Dictionary.com defines assault as: “a sudden, violent attack; onslaught.”

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, sexual assault can be defined as: Illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (such as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority.”

Dictionary.com says harassment as: “the act or an instance of harassing, or disturbing, pestering, or troubling repeatedly; persecution.”

Assault, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are all unwanted attacks that result in harm — not just physical harm, but psychological and emotional harm as well, and they can happen independently or simultaneously. For example, if a man grabs your arm to pull you close and then gropes you, he’s guilty of assault and sexual assault. If he brings up the altercation at a later time, and it makes you relive the experience, it’s sexual harassment. Although each behavior is independent, they often times occur together.

The only good thing to come out of all this pain is change, and you’re already starting to see that, with companies like Sony, Netflix, Warner Bros., HBO, BBC and The Orchard making tough but necessary decisions regarding content featuring the aforementioned perpetrators. We won’t commend Louis C.K. for owning up to his abuse of power, but when people like him and Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck admit that they’ve engaged in behaviors that have hurt women, it finally allows a conversation to start that asks: how can we change? There’s nothing any of these men can do to undo the crimes they’ve committed against women, so the only real step abusers can take is confessing and asking to be held accountable, so that they never regress and go into a sexism remission. In confessing, they don’t deserve to be applauded, but they don’t deserve to be persecuted either. Confessing is the most basic way to begin a healing process that must ripple throughout the industry for there to be any actual change in Hollywood, and the world at large.

For the assailants out there, there isn’t a manual on how to manage the blowback. Admitting you have failed women in the way you acted towards them isn’t going to be easy, but it is going to inspire others to admit that they’re guilty too, so we can advance as a society.

However, choosing not to come forward is a dangerous gamble, since by staying silent, predators risk losing all their power if people start coming forward. Just ask Louis C.K., who was outed for being a habitual predator of women in a not-too-shocking article by the NY Times. Shortly thereafter, the premiere of Louis C.K.’s new movie I Love You, Daddy was canceled, as was a scheduled appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. The bomb has been detonated, and Louis C.K.’s crimes against women won’t be ignored. Though he initially declined to comment via his publicist, he eventually confessed on Friday, admitting “these stories are true.” It’s too soon to say whether that confession will be enough to save his .

I want to say that a soundbite from Louis or Alec or Ben about how they want to change isn’t enough, but when compared to the silence of guys like Jeremy Piven or Ed Westwick, who seem to be living in denial, it feels like a grand gesture. Regardless of which men come forward, I hope the #MeToo movement creates a turning point that sees the “old boys club” culture of Hollywood finally dissolve.

Clearly, there has been a seismic shift in the climate. The empowerment of women and victims is palpable. This town has run on sexism for decades, but I can see that the collective tolerance for that power dynamic has run its course. As more men confess their crimes, and they are crimes, we’ll have real proof that we’re evolving. Right now, we’re all a part of a societal conversation where we have a chance to leave things better than we found them, and I really hope we do.


Sabrina Cognata is an award-winning writer, producer and storyteller. During a decade long meltdown, she burned her life to the ground and revamped it as often as Madonna. Sabrina has written or produced for HuffPost Live, CBS Radio, TMZ and XO Jane, and she’s currently producing a syndicated news show for FOX television while tirelessly fighting the patriarchy Every. Damn. Day.

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