On Monday, actress Kristina Cohen wrote about how she was allegedly raped by Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick. Her account is one of the most brutal stories of sexual assault I’ve ever read. And it’s one of the most shocking to have emerged post-Harvey Weinstein in this new #metoo era.
Here’s a little bit of what she wrote:
“I was briefly dating a producer who was friends with the actor Ed Westwick. It was this producer who brought me up to Ed’s house where I met Ed for the first time. I wanted to leave when Ed suggested ‘we should all fuck’. But the producer didn’t want to make Ed feel awkward by leaving. Ed insisted we stay for dinner. I said I was tired and wanted to leave, trying to get out of what was already an uncomfortable situation. Ed suggested I nap in the guest bedroom. The producer said we would stay for just another 20 more minutes to smooth everything over, and then we could leave.
“So I went and laid down in the guest room where I eventually fell asleep, I was woken up abruptly by Ed on top of me, his fingers entering my body. I told him to stop, but he was strong. I fought him off as hard as I could but he grabbed my face in his hands, shaking me, telling me he wanted to fuck me. I was paralyzed, terrified. I couldn’t speak, I could no longer move. He held me down and raped me.”
Today, the LAPD confirmed they are looking into the allegations levelled against Westwick. Of course, it’s now completely right that the authorities should fairly look into the claims. Westwick, for one, has totally denied the allegation.
But immediately, in a depressingly familiar pattern, men and women were quick to accuse the actress of lying.
One commenter on Facebook said: “Haven’t you heard of innocent until proven guilty? She’s just ruined someone publicly when there’s no proof. Girls are always after attention, that’s just sad. If something like this really happened to you I guarantee you wouldn’t be posting it on social media.”
Another person wrote: “What a disgrace! To make such a horrible statement about someone just so you can get fame! … Liar much! I personally have a family member extremely close to me that has been raped and this does not have a little part of truth!”
A third said: “It’s not about her decisions! It’s about her lies! It’s easy to see she is lying about the whole thing and it makes matters worse for real folk who get raped because then they will say ‘Hey women lie about being raped too.’”
Why do we have to go through this every single time? Why are people so eager to call the alleged victim a liar or, even worse, blame them?
In this case, it could be partly down to the nature of modern fandom. People who’ve followed Westwick’s career for years might think they’ve developed some sort of relationship with him by watching him on TV. To these people I say: grow up.
But more important is the role of good old-fashioned misogyny. People don’t like the fact that the male-dominated, heterosexual and largely white cultural system we live in is being challenged. Every voice saying ‘me too’ is like a brick thrown through a window; it’s loud, sometimes frightening and it shatters what was there before.
So they immediately attack and try to silence women who come forward with claims that disturb that cultural system. They tell women they’re liars, that they’re being hysterical or that they encouraged their assault by getting drunk or dressing promiscuously.
To embrace the voices of abused women would be to challenge the system we live and to question how the abuse of power operates. Even scarier, these people would have to think about how they’re complicit in this misogynistic system.
And all of this is exactly why many victims don’t come forward in the first place. Not only are you revealing an intensely personal and sensitive issue but you’re exposing yourself to a barrage of abuse and attacks. Who would want to willingly put themselves through this?
The next time you read about a rape allegation, and this is quite simple but needs to be repeated, use your voice and social media to encourage other people to share their experience without judgement.
And if you’re trying to keep women quiet, we’d politely recommend that you STFU.