Not a week seems to go by without a new case of sexual assault involving a public figure making the rounds.
With every case comes renewed debate over the nuances between abuse, harassment, consent, and other concepts commonly used in the media, and more recently, in courts.
And with every case, the #MeToo movement returns to the spotlight. In 2017, women of all ages and backgrounds began using the hashtag on social media to open up about their experiences with sexual harassment at the hands of privileged men.
The movement’s initial aim was not to put the perpetrators in jail. Punishment for these men seemed like a far-fetched dream, anyway, despite the multitude of allegations against the same man at times, or even the legal validation of such allegations.
Instead, these confessions became a space for victims to come together and share their experiences, raise awareness, and help each other deal with and overcome their trauma.
To say the movement changed the world or made it a paradise for women is a stretch, but it did paint a hopeful picture for the future.
Awareness grew among the women of the world, be they actual or potential victims, though the same cannot be said as yet of the men basking in their moral or political covers, unwilling to lose their privileges just yet.
To say the #MeToo movement changed the world is a stretch, but awareness has grown. However, the same cannot be said as yet of the men basking in their moral or political covers, unwilling to lose their privileges just yet.
As their awareness increased, women spoke more freely and boldly of these unfortunate incidents, and some victims insisted on challenging their perpetrators in court.
This was the case with American film producer Harvey Weinstein, and more recently with the famous French actor Gerard Depardieu.
But perhaps the most prominent recent case is that of former US President Donald Trump, who appeared on 9 May before a Manhattan court that found him liable for sexually abusing writer E Jean Carroll in 1991.
No prison sentence was handed down to the former president, but the jurors awarded Carroll approximately $5 million in damages for defamation. Trump had repeatedly smeared Carroll's name in the last few years, accusing her of using the allegations to achieve fame.
The Joker's dystopian world
In Todd Phillips' 2019 box office hit "Joker", Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a failed comedian-turned-monster. To many viewers, the fragile Fleck embodies how evil can turn the world into a dystopia.
Many in Gotham vilified the Joker, but Arthur's transformation into a villain did not start with evil intentions. Quite the opposite, Arthur was the victim of a dysfunctional family and inadequate social services.
Fleck lives with his mentally ill mother, and his high-profile father refuses to acknowledge him as his son. The social services system that supplies his medications prioritises stigma over psychological treatment.
A misfit and outsider to the cruel society he lives in, Arthur initially keeps his sorrows and torments to himself, but after that one fateful accident, he picks up the mask of evil. From there on, going back to his old life becomes impossible.
While riding home on the subway, he sees three young, upper-class, white men harassing a woman. When he attempts to stand up to them peacefully, they mock and beat him.
Killing them is killing the future politicians of America, on whom the American people pin their hopes. But his own death – moral or physical – means nothing.
Arthur instinctively retorts to the provocation by shooting the three men dead, becoming a hero in the eyes of the common people who can no longer bear this corrupt upper class.
Wasn't that young woman in the subway the daughter of a common citizen with no exceptional privileges, much like Arthur himself? Had they raped or killed the woman, the young men would have still enjoyed impunity and kept on climbing the social ladder.
So, the Joker decided to take matters into his own hands and serve justice himself, as he realised that the Gotham society would not be fair to the woman, or to him.
Perhaps the idea of evil born from good intentions contributed to the movie's exceptional success in today's world, which might not be very different from the fictional world of Gotham.
Anatomy of a Scandal
Netflix's Anatomy of a Scandal (2022) shines the spotlight on other facets of the issue, such as the indirect victims of men's power and impunity.
Sex. Power. Privilege.
From the creator of Big Little Lies and The Undoing comes Anatomy of a Scandal, a new six-part series starring Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery, Rupert Friend and Naomi Scott. Premieres April 15 pic.twitter.com/kGhOlelCje
The mini-series revolves around Sophie (Sienna Miller), the wife of famous politician James Whitehouse (Robert Friend). Sophie's life is turned upside down when Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott), one of her husband's aides, announces she was raped by James and sues him, putting his political future at stake.
The series is adapted from an eponymous novel by British writer and journalist Sarah Vaughan, who told Harper's Bazaar that the seed for her book was an interview she had conducted with Boris Johnson several years before.
When Vaughan asked the former UK Prime Minister about his affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt, Johnson had shown a "lack of compunction" about his previous denials of the affair, which did not sit well with Vaughan.
"For him, the truth was malleable, whereas for most of us, it simply isn't," she said.
This disregard for others to secure one's own interests inspired Vaughan to write the novel, which was published at the peak of the #MeToo movement and quickly became a bestseller.
Sophie's world is shaken again when Olivia reveals that she had been in an affair with James for five months before he raped her.
Through this plot twist, Director SJ Clarkson and screenwriter Melissa Gibson wanted to shine the spotlight on the concept of consent in relationships.
Sophie's world is shaken again when Olivia reveals that she had been in an affair with James for five months before he raped her. Through this plot twist, the screenwriter wanted to shine the spotlight on the concept of consent in relationships.
During the hearings, Olivia admits that she was in love with James, even when they broke up a week before the incident. But his monstrous approach that day insulted her and made her feel violated.
For his part, James does not deny the affair. Quite the contrary, he uses it in his defence, claiming that what happened that day was consensual and that the rape allegations are his ex-lover's way of taking revenge.
From the very start, James goes to Sophie, who is known to be a "faithful and forgiving" wife, and admits to the affair, repeatedly reassuring her that it was a purely physical relationship. Later, James contradicts that excuse himself to prove his innocence, admitting to the judge that he and Olivia had been in love.
Men's 'malleable' truth
For Whitehouse, much like for Boris Johnson, truth was malleable, depending on the circumstances and interests.
The series justifies Sophie's silence at the outset by her selfless personality: a wife and mother whose sole occupation is to support her husband and his limitless ambitions and care for their two children.
But the more James pushes her to wear the mask of a forgiving, supportive wife for the press, the more she seems confused by that gut feeling that tells her James' narrative is flawed.
But Sophie's growing doubts are not the only sign that the moment of truth, which is only revealed in the last episode, is approaching.
Prosecution counsel Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery) vehemently strives to prove the rape accusations against James with an insistence that borders obstinance, raising many question marks around her true motives.
"Anatomy of a Scandal" is a remarkable work in that it portrays the women who decide to break the silence about such issues in a positive light, despite many women keeping their silence when other women accuse their husbands of wrongdoing.
But Netflix's miniseries is a hopeful reminder that women – the "half victims, half accomplices," as Jean-Paul Sartre puts it per Simone de Beauvoir's 'The Second Sex' – can catalyse change if they decide to cooperate with other victims, much like corrupt men cooperate to bury their crimes.
James Whitehouse may not get the verdict he deserves, but Anatomy of a Scandal tells us that such crimes usually have a bigger dimension to them, one of mutual interests, corruption, and complicity, which means they might only be the first round in a long battle.