It's been a terrible few weeks for the women in Hollywood, as more and more victims of sexual assault come forward with stories from their past. By now you've probably heard about actress Kristina Cohen's Facebook post alleging that Gossip Girl and White Gold actor Ed Westwick raped her three years ago. She shares the story in excruciatingly vivid detail, alleging that Ed "held me down and raped me."
While many have praised Kristina for her bravery and condemned Ed, many others are astonished and refuse to believe the allegations.
On November 7, Ed released a brief statement on his social media accounts:
Another disturbing trend we're observing is that Twitter users who are obvious fans of Ed's are coming to his defense, despite the fact that the issue has not been definitively resolved.
Alright, girls, here's something we all need to understand about sexual assault: Both sides need to be considered fairly. The accuser does not deserve to be victim-blamed or dismissed for speaking up. On the other hand, the accused deserves some benefit of the doubt. It's possible that the allegations are unfounded, but any woman who has the courage to speak up about an event like this would not go out of their way to ruin their careers—or, so to speak, be "that girl"—for a mere 15 minutes of fame. There are plenty of other ways to capture the public's attention; why would falsely coming out as a rape victim be their first option?
It's difficult to fathom that Ed, who is best known for the iconic role of Chuck Bass in Gossip Girl, could be capable of such a disgusting act. But why wasn't it this difficult for the public to side with Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein's accusers when they finally stepped forward? Evidently, Ed is getting more empathy and support because he is young and conventionally attractive, and to put it bluntly, that's not okay. Just because Kevin and Harvey fit our internalized perception of what a rapist might "look like"—the dirty old, rich, white man—does not mean we are in a position to call Kristina a liar.
Remember, rape is never primarily about sexual pleasure. One might assume that, because of Ed's good looks, he would "never need to rape" anyone, but rape is about power. Notice the choice of words used by both Kristina and Ed's second accuser, Aurélie Wynn. Both stories are consistent in that they highlight the sheer helplessness they felt during the act:
"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." —Kristina Cohen
"I said no and he pushed me face down and was powerless under his weight. I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit that he ripped." —Aurélie Wynn
Repeat after us:
- Rape is about power, not sexual pleasure.
- Any man or woman, regardless of their physical appearance, is capable of committing rape.
- The victim must not be dismissed or blamed, even if the accused is innocent until proven guilty.
It's time to disassociate ourselves with the mindset that only people who aren't famous and attractive would need to rape another person. Whether Ed Westwick is innocent or guilty, we can only hope that the truth is revealed soon. But until this issue is resolved by the proper authorities, each of us is personally responsible for fostering an environment wherein victims of sexual assault feel safe enough to open up. Let's not intimidate another Kristina Cohen or Aurélie Wynn into waiting several years before stepping forward.