Why are sexual predators like Louis C.K. just now being outed?

While promoting his upcoming film 'I Love You, Daddy,' star, writer, and director Louis C.K. was asked about the allegations of sexual misconduct that have followed him for years. He has since apologized. (USA TODAY)

More than two years ago, now-defunct Gawker published a story citing a tipster who said he called out Louis C.K. for sexual assault and had a phone conversation with the comedian about it, sharing screenshots of an email exchange as evidence.

According to that story, rumors of sexual misconduct had been swirling around C.K. for years.

The same could be said for Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey -- in fact, Seth MacFarlane made jokes about both men's rumored sexual misdeeds well before this fall, when both have reportedly come to our state to be treated for sex addiction (which is decidedly different from sexual predation).

It feels like we might be at a turning point in how America treats sexual abusers. Even if most people have long proclaimed their disgust at the idea, when they're faced with an actual case (which statistics show is rare compared to the number of cases that occur), they'll frequently dismiss the culprit as harmless.

For what seems like the first time -- and it certainly is the first time on this scale -- outed assaulters are being punished both professionally and in the court of public opinion.

"I think what makes this unique is that corporations that employ these celebrities are being relatively heavy-handed in punishments," said Angie Henderson, Ph.D., a sociology professor at the University of Northern Colorado.

The number of victims sharing their stories about powerful men assaulting them has reached a critical mass in some ways, and with each testimony, it may seem just a bit easier for the next victim to speak out.

If one victim stood onstage in front of dozens of unknowing people and declared that she had been sexually assaulted, Henderson says she'd likely be ignored, or drowned out in short order.

"But if there was 100 of us up on the stage, people would believe us, especially if the (assaulter's) MO was the same," she said. "That is what gives victims power to come forward and to say something."

Part of what may have kept the C.K. story and others like it from reaching a boiling point in the past is that victims were unnamed. As more accusers go on the record, the public is more likely to believe their stories, the issue stays in the news longer and the likelihood of other victims speaking out increases.

It's a cumulative effect.

The elements of that effect didn't exist 10 years ago when Tarana Burke started using "me too" as a refrain for victims of sexual violence.

Besides the exponential growth of social media in the intervening years, Henderson says race and stature played a part in the visibility of the recent "#MeToo movement," largely credited to actress Alyssa Milano.

"Whenever a white woman sheds light on a problem, people listen," Henderson said. "For white women, it feels safe. For trans women, for black women, for people of color, I don’t think we’re there yet."

While some women may feel safer than before, there is still the issue that really created the leverage for some men to abuse women in the first place: power dynamics.

The gap may be shrinking little by little, but men still significantly outnumber women in positions of power across industries, institutions and economies.

One known example of an extreme discrepancy in this respect is politics; The U.S. Senate now has 21 women among its 100 members, the most it's ever seen.

Arizona's House of Representatives is less uneven (by my hand count, there are 38 men and 22 women), but it does have a sexual harassment scandal of its own: Rep. Don Shooter has been suspended as a committee chairman after allegations he sexually harassed another lawmaker and The Arizona Republic's publisher.

"Every social institution in society is a microcosm of society at large. We know that that’s true for sport, we know that that’s true for religion," Henderson said. "Politics is no different -- in fact it might be worse. Politics, similar to sport, is dominated by men. When you have that inequality quantitatively, you’re going to have that see-saw with women on the low end and men on the high end."

So what happens from here? It's one thing for a society to adjust its reaction to a behavior, but can we really expect a decrease in instances of sexual violence?

Henderson says some behavior that has been overt -- physical assaults, comments in public and the workplace -- may become more covert, which may keep some women physically safer, but the issue also becomes harder to address.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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