Non-Consensual Sex in the Entertainment Industry



Non-consensual Sex in the Entertainment Industry

Ronan Farrow has just written a piece in The New Yorker (10/10/17) entitled From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories

The article describes classic strategies that Weinstein and others have used to impose themselves on those working within the entertainment industry or attempting to establish themselves in the field. Countless entertainment executives, directors, and celebrities are involved in what may be considered a certain shadow subculture within the entertainment industry that not only engages in serial non-consensual sex, but actually condones it either explicitly or implicitly. There are many within the industry who have a fine quality of character and who live and work with the utmost integrity. And then, there are others….

A recent article written by Sady Doyle for Elle magazine, spoke to this in light of Academy Award nominees and recipients, featuring Casey Affleck as someone who has been known to sexually harass employees on film sets and naming others who have been in the media for similar transgressions. It was a good article, pointing out how often these types of things are overlooked within the entertainment industry and kudos to a magazine like Elle, not typically associated with feminist stances, to bring this forward. Many survivors of sexual abuse have expressed an ill feeling in their stomach when they see someone being congratulated for having contributed to a particular charity or awarded for directing or producing a film about important social justice messages  or for a sensitive and vulnerable portrayal of a character in a film, knowing and staying silent about what that person is known to have perpetrated non-consensually behind closed doors. It is sad, indeed, that many who find themselves in positions of power apparently cannot resist the temptation to harm others, to become inflated, and to abduct the feminine in themselves and others and close the vault to the relational.

Sexual violence can be subversive. The silent abuse of power-over may be hidden to all but the perpetrator and victim in emotional blackmail and entrapment. In the entertainment industry, youthful bodies are often seen as a dime a dozen and a commodity to be used up and tossed away. David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive serves as a hauntingly creative piece about women, in particular, internalizing this culture and, while being consistently objectified, often finding themselves giving up and giving in to this objectification. They may so thoroughly numb themselves that they may not even realize the depths of their suffering and the resulting life events that emerge from their shattered world until years later when they ask “What on earth happened to me? What am I actually feeling about all of this?” They often blame themselves for having been violated. The shame can be staggering.

Farrow quotes Lucia Evans in relation to a sexual assault by Weinstein and writes: At a certain point, she said, “I just sort of gave up. That’s the most horrible part of it, and that’s why he’s been able to do this for so long to so many women: people give up, and then they feel like it’s their fault.” Further quotes: “Evans said that, after the incident, “I just put it in a part of my brain and closed the door.” She continued to blame herself for not fighting harder. “It was always my fault for not stopping him,” she said. “I had an eating problem for years. I was disgusted with myself. It’s funny, all these unrelated things I did to hurt myself because of this one thing.” Evans told friends some of what had happened, but felt largely unable to talk about it. “I ruined several really good relationships because of this. My schoolwork definitely suffered, and my roommates told me to go to a therapist because they thought I was going to kill myself.”

Farrow quotes another woman, Asia Argento, writing: “At some point, Argento said, she stopped saying no and feigned enjoyment, because she thought it was the only way the assault would end. “I was not willing,” she told me. “I said, ‘No, no, no.’ . . . It’s twisted.”

Within the entertainment industry, as in other contexts, there is also a socioeconomic bias. Few speak out about the abuses of power and privilege in the film industry. However, brave souls like Ashley Judd and those in Farrow’s article as well as the recent disclosures in the media about Bill Cosby and others, have recently made the leap. It happens in other countries’ entertainment meccas as well. Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, has shared about ‘Weinsteinian’ tactics in India, in reference to power and privilege distinctions in the Tamil film industry. Some, like her, risk their careers by calling out this subculture of sexual exploitation. Others may not feel as confident in taking that risk, especially if they are in a vulnerable socioeconomic situation and are relative “unknowns” in the industry. Indeed, Sarathkumar speaks about those in vulnerable socioeconomic positions who are the most common prey, as nobody will listen to their voices, should they even take the chance of speaking out.

The following is a poem written many years ago by a woman who has given permission to share and whom, for purposes of confidentiality, will be called Danielle. At 21 years of age, very attractive and with a wide-eyed innocence, after having received many awards in High School for her theatre performances, Danielle had expectations about a future in the acting business. Encouraged by friends and teachers and with a few thousand dollars saved in order to secure an apartment lease, she left her lower middle class religious family in the suburban Midwest to come to Los Angeles to pursue a film or television career. She then worked minimum-wage jobs to support herself and began to go on interviews for roles in television and film. One day, she responded to an ad in the popular weekly publication that advertised where auditions were occurring for student films, plays, the occasional low-budget film, and things like that. This ad, apparently, stated that someone was sought for a role in a low budget film that fit her description. It wasn’t uncommon in those days for film, advertising agencies producing commercials, or fashion companies to lease a suite of rooms at a hotel for their panel of interviewers to set up tables and chairs and do their auditioning and vetting before setting up actual production offices. Occasionally, auditions for certain things were even scheduled at an estate or other venue outside of the typical office building or studio lot.

Danielle responded to the ad and was given the address of the audition. When she showed up, she was a bit surprised to see that she was entering the driveway of a large Beverly Hills estate. A middle-aged man greeted her and engaged her in conversation, saying that he liked her headshot and theatre experience and wished to speak to her get a feel for her personality for the role. She has described how she did not sense anything terribly askew, as he seemed friendly and appropriate. She described how she met with this man a couple of times and he seemed “somewhat parental” towards her, as if he truly wanted to help mentor her into the profession. He told her that the film was still in the beginning phases and the script wasn’t completed, so it was on hold for the moment, but that she was a great candidate for the role. She was flattered and hopeful. She began to trust him and experience him as a friendly advocate on her behalf. On a certain occasion he offered her a glass of wine and she accepted and took several sips. He then began to make sexual advances, which she gently, but firmly rejected, feeling confused and a bit frightened by the shift in his behavior. After those few sips of wine, she felt a bit dizzy and her body began to feel slack and she noticed that she was slurring her words but couldn’t stop herself from doing so. He then began to touch her more aggressively and pull her into a bedroom. As he was pulling her into the bedroom, he actually admitted that he had drugged her, telling her that “since you were being so uptight, it was the only way to loosen you up.”

She emerged from that experience blaming herself in many ways, calling herself naïve for having bought into the false story of a movie deal and believing in the honorable intentions of this older man. Feeling “soiled” by what had happened, confused and violated, she began to feel apathetic and somewhat hateful towards herself and in regard to her own body esteem and sense of worth. In a paradoxical way, and one that is often seen with survivors of sexual violence, there is a vulnerability to either shutting off completely or being re-victimized or a variation of both. Danielle describes how she lost confidence in herself and in her own judgments and found herself engaging in sexual encounters with a variety of men who turned out to have questionable intentions. Not believing that “any normal person would want” to be with her, at that point, she continued to seek love and attention from partners who were ultimately unavailable, resulting in a shattering of meaning and continued lessening of self-worth. She used alcohol in excess “for the very purpose of numbing out,” and wished that she could “not feel the pain anymore.” She also became aware that she was fostering a deep bitterness and cynicism about romantic relationships in general and there was a part of her that fantasized about exerting power over those who had hurt her. She often experienced suicidal thoughts. This is a bit of journal writing that she shared from those early days in Hollywood:

“Used, used…

I’m tired

I’m sick

Always the victim of a trick.

The devil got loose and decided to

Take out his abuse on me

What did I do but give in to all this nonsense

What am I turning out to be?

I think I’ll kill myself, then everyone

Can read my notes that don’t make any sense.


What to do…What to do…

I’ve lost it! I tell you, I’ve lost it.

I’ve paid my dues and I’m ready

I’m ready to conquer the world with power

Leave me alone! Just leave it!

Find some other prey to devour.


I’m sad and lonely and lost.

How much does a new heart cost?

My body’s been tried and had

And I’m the one who turns out bad.


I’m going to sink away in my hideaway castle

And no-one will know where to find me.

I’ll do away with my life and the hassle

To a place where only I can be.”


Donald Kalsched’s (1996) concepts and case studies around the inner psychological/archetypal experience of the “self-care system” in the context of trauma elucidate what we can see in the passage above as a turning away from life, a wish to go into a fantasy “hideaway castle” in defense of a dangerous world and isolate from social engagement. Danielle’s example shows us that a wounded “self-care system” that has been overcome by what she describes as “the devil” who “decided to take out his abuse on me” may take some time to heal and may require therapies that rely more on implicit processes in which memory is stored and released through somatic and creative engagement rather than by purely rational approaches. She relied on poetry to express these inner experiences and these writings were kept privately.

Ten years after her initial journal entry which is shared above, Danielle was still immersed in the Hollywood scene and living with a wealthy boyfriend who was, at that point, supporting her financially, but who would also engage in sex with her upon his whim, even when she was not wanting to, and who would emotionally abuse her with words such as “You’d be nothing without me!” Reluctantly going with this boyfriend and some friends to a trendy nightclub, Danielle described how, while becoming more and more inebriated, she found herself reflecting on how uncertain she was of her own self-worth and how she had, on some level, deliberately attempted to “not feel” as she allowed herself to be “treated as an object over and over again.” She felt trapped and did not know the way out, yet longed for something different for herself, for another chance. Haunted by unconscious images of shattered glass cutting on skin and sexual encounters gone awry, she scribbled the following words on a paper menu as she sat at a table in a reflective yet inebriated state, drinking and unnoticed by the others who chatted and danced to the loud music:

“Crystal chandeliers cutting at my skin

Arching, arching, arching to the slicy silence

Bleeding, arching, opening body

Too much—too soon.” 

The palpable pain in her words emerged from what she shared in further discussion as a feeling of not having a place to share her experiences in a coherent way, of sensing that nobody would listen or care, or that she would be blamed and judged for the direction her life had taken after the initial rape. The words for the initial experience still eluded her and this inability to recognize and articulate the nuances of feelings that emerged from that experience or even how to describe the scenario in which it occurred in such a way as to not incite immediate judgment, eluded her. The years forward only augmented the dissociation and sense of alienation from herself and others. She did not find meaning in the world she was living in anymore and longed for respect and normalcy in her life. She had longed for the kind of spiritual life she had experienced as a child as well, when she looked at the role model of Christ as a guide for compassion and containment and to the sense of awe while in nature or with the animals on her family farm, but she did not identify with the fundamentalist stance of her family of origin, which believed in a punishing God and demeaned women who represented sensuality or assertiveness, even in biblical stories, such as Mary Magdalene, for instance. She could not speak to her mother or anyone else in her family about her experiences, as she felt that they would surely misunderstand and think of her as “sinful.” Danielle was someone whose own family and fundamentalist religious background amplified her shame, but even without such a background, people of any gender who have survived non-consensual sex, experience shame and are vulnerable to further victimization. I recommend reading some works by Marion Woodman, who beautifully articulated the unconscious aspects of wounding in our bodies.

Shortly after her piece about the cutting glass was written, Danielle shared that a friend introduced her to some workshops which inspired her to continue to attend seminars and to learn meditation. During this time, she also entered into psychotherapy. She worked with dreams and with becoming aware of how and where she held emotion in her body and of the rage at the injustices that she had been unable to express in the moments of her initial abuse and thereafter. She began to feel moments of a sense of “awe” again in her life, rather than the chronic low grade depression and flatness she had gotten used to, and to feel more of a relationship to her own power, self-respect, and grace. She discovered new and unique ways of experiencing a relationship with spirituality that embraced notions of love over punitive dictates. She shared another piece that she wrote several years after having been in therapy. Her journaling and poems now had phrases such as “a bright orange dawn calls me to action, not out of fear but out of compassion” and about “seeing and hearing” her own heart speak and “not being able to go back” to treating herself with disrespect.

I am reminded of a course I once taught where I asked the students to create masks to represent their outer personas and their inner selves. One woman, whom I will call Susan, for the purposes of this description, walked to the front of the class to do her presentation and she had prepared an art piece that represented a large role of toilet paper as her inner self/mask, with the implied reference to its touch of private parts and wiping away of excrement. As she unraveled the long stream of paper, she had scribbled images and words for timelines and markers in her life that led her to return to school. Part of her path had involved prostituting herself in a city known for its casinos and entertainment/night life. The trigger for such a life was an early sexual assault and an inability to escape that left her confused and devaluing herself, such that for a time she succumbed to invitations for sex in exchange for money. As she shared with the class, she said that she felt that she had “lost” her “innocence.” The art work that Susan presented as her representation of her “mask” was extremely creative, exquisitely well thought out and well organized, and filled the room with a deep sense of care and wonder. The feedback that she received was that the child in her that is able to experience what is newly emerging was evident in her creativity, honesty, and vibrancy, and that her presentation showed that her “innocence” or inner child, as it were, was not “lost” but was generative, creative, and authentic. She listened to this feedback and was clearly moved. Later, she shared that the experience in class, in which she disclosed those intimate details of her life story through the medium of art, impacted her in a very positive way for accepting and moving beyond narrow perceptions of herself.

There are so many similar stories to Danielle’s and Susan’s from the entertainment industry that contribute to feelings of loss of hope, low self-worth, and trust gone awry. Along with the stories of rape or attempted rape are the stories of those who have successfully escaped rape, only to deal with physical threats, being ostracized, or a direct threat to career and reputation. These perpetrations on an interpersonal level can leave one numb, untrusting, zombie-like, walking into the same traps over and over or avoiding many things, trance-like and moderately dissociated, feeling what some indigenous elders refer to as soul-loss. Some never speak about having had these experiences. When they do, it is often many years after such experiences. Whether in the context of the entertainment industry or other context, it is often difficult to even find the correct words to describe such experiences and the feelings that go along with them. Bringing voice to one’s pain and allowing an openness of heart that reveals not just a secret, but the secrecy itself is a powerful path toward healing. When those among us are silent for some time, rather than dismissing disclosures of non-consensual sexual experiences when they finally emerge, perhaps we may find it in ourselves to be moved to consider these voices of disclosure. Women such as Danielle and Susan are among those who, because of, but not limited to, the context of the entertainment profession, are often taken lightly, as if they were privy to or even colluding with the intentions of their perpetrators.

I have heard many more tragic stories from others of all genders and I have a couple of experiences myself in this context which have informed my path in life.

Recent allegations in the media are only the tip of the iceberg. It appears that a climate of activism is emerging. As frightening as it can be to come out with stories, the greater reward is authenticity and a sense of service, in that what was once private is now exposed. Healing and change can only come from individual and collective relational care. Voices are beginning to be listened to. May we not stop here…



Trackback this Post | Feed on comments to this Post

Leave your Comment