By Rhian Lowndes
BU News Service
CAMBRIDGE — The reporters who exposed Harvey Weinstein after decades of sexual abuse began with a simple question from their editors: “Are there other men in American life who have abused women?” The First Parish Church echoed with laughter in response Monday night.
A predominantly female audience of over 530 people came out to hear Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey discuss their new book, “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement,” about their investigation into Weinstein. The panelists were joined by actress and activist Ashley Judd, one of the first women to publicly accuse the film producer, and the panel was moderated by NPR correspondent Carrie Johnson.
Twohey explained how she managed to break the silence that sexual assault and harassment victims too often stick to, the same silence which led her editors to ask such a question at the start of the investigation. She asked that these women come forward, not for their own sake, but to protect others from the same fate.
“There’s something about being able to tap into themselves and maybe find the courage to do something that may help other women,” Twohey said.
The hour-long panel revealed that the outstanding problem in Twohey and Kantor’s investigation was the victims’ silence, not only a result of their shame and fear, but of contractual agreements. Weinstein had paid between eight and twelve settlements over sexual abuse allegations, and many women faced a plethora of penalties for accusing him publicly.
Not only do these settlements “not solve the problem of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, but we’ve seen that they enable alleged predators, and allow men to pay somebody and then go on to the next allegation,” Kantor said.
Judd described how sharing one’s experience can relieve the shame that comes with sexual abuse.
“We all need a listening-to, and I believe that when we are witnessed, it changes the neuro-anatomical pathways of our brain, and we can be validated and healed,” Judd said.
Judd shared that she was a victim of child rape and of Weinstein’s sexual harassment; moderator Carrie Johnson also commented that Judd studied the experiences of victims throughout college and during her advocacy work.
After the panel, Judd left her seat to hug Professor Catharine MacKinnon, an iconic feminist legal scholar and the first Special Gender Adviser to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who was sitting in the front row of the audience.
MacKinnon assisted Kantor during the investigation and “wanted to see the vibrations” that came from the discussion. She was joined by colleague Diane Rosenfeld, who lectures on Gender Violence and Title IX at Harvard.
“To hear the dynamics of what went on behind the scenes and how much fiduciary duty they exercised for everyone they talked to, they are the highest values of journalism,” Rosenfeld said. MacKinnon added that without a second source, the story could never have been published, to which Rosenfeld responded, “Ashley was really the hero of the story.”
Other audience members lined the inside of the huge church, waiting to have their book signed, where Sophie Collins Arroyo, a Harvard student, said she was impressed by Twohey and Kantor’s “journalistic integrity that they obviously hold so dear,” but most of all by the feeling of unity at the end, as the entire attendance rose to thunderous applause for Twohey, Kantor and Judd.