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Why any man hiding a history of predatory sexual behaviour now faces a reckoning


We’re only just over seven weeks into 2024 and already the news is full of ­stories of powerful men facing allegations of sexual misdemeanours.

The latest industry to be targeted as a ­hotbed of misogyny is the music business, which was castigated by the Women and Equalities Committee. Its report said sexual harassment and abuse is ­‘common’, with former Radio 1 DJ Annie Macmanus, who gave evidence at the inquiry, saying there was a ‘tidal wave’ of revelations about sexual assault in the music industry waiting to be told.

In Hollywood, singer Paula Abdul is bringing a harassment suit against her fellow talent show judge, the British TV producer Nigel Lythgoe. She alleges she was twice sexually assaulted by Lythgoe. He has strongly denied her claims. Days later two more women came forward with another lawsuit accusing ­Lythgoe of ­similar allegations.

In France, there is a furore over the alleged sexual crimes of actor Gerard Depardieu. And the release of Johanna Sjoberg’s court ­deposition last month detailing her ordeal as an alleged ­victim of Jeffrey Epstein makes it clear there was no shortage of rich and powerful men who were prepared to overlook Epstein’s ­conviction as a sex offender in order to avail themselves of his hospitality, which included, for some, ‘massages’ from under-age girls.

So far the only person who has been ­convicted of anything in the Epstein case is a woman, Ghislaine Maxwell, but I wonder if 2024 will prove to be a tipping point.

Daisy Goodwin feels as if there¿s been a cultural shift and the anxieties women have about not being believed are changing

Daisy Goodwin feels as if there’s been a cultural shift and the anxieties women have about not being believed are changing

I honestly believe this may well prove to be a year of reckoning for any man with a skeleton in his closet related to sexual misdeeds.

Why? Because this is the moment women are finally daring to hope that if they go public about the harassment they have suffered at the hands of men, they will be believed.

It is almost seven years since the revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s criminal sexual ­misconduct provoked the MeToo movement — seven years in which one might imagine that every powerful man with a predatory past would have been exposed. But going public about a sexual misdemeanour takes courage. Women often risk a personal counter-attack, being accused of being mentally unstable or worse. That is why women who put their ­complaints on the record are brave.

But often, if someone with a public profile is prepared to speak out, it encourages other women to do the same. Because that is the thing about sexually predatory men — it is rarely a one-off thing. If he has done it once, chances are he will have done it many times.

Last year, after I went public about the time I was groped in Downing Street by Daniel ­Korski, a special adviser to then Prime ­Minister David Cameron, I was contacted by a number of women who told me about their experiences with the same man — ranging from a hand on the upper thigh in Starbucks to a full-on ­sexual assault.

They hadn’t complained publicly because they were scared of the professional repercussions. As one woman told me: ‘It is all too easy in these “he said/she said” situations for the woman to be written off as a hysteric suffering from “mental health” issues.’

Three more women came forward and spoke to the Financial Times about being groped by Korski. He ‘emphatically and vehemently’ denies the allegations.

It feels as if there’s been a cultural shift and the anxieties women have about not being believed are changing.

Accused: Depardieu and Brand face allegations of sexual assault, which they deny

Accused: Depardieu and Brand face allegations of sexual assault, which they deny

Look at the furore surrounding the allegations about Russell Brand last year. This is a man who had boasted of being a ‘sex addict’ but whose charisma and box office appeal had made people think that his sexual proclivities (he claims to have slept with thousands of women) must be consensual.

The Sunday Times and Channel 4 investigation into Brand was called In Plain Sight, implying, rightly, that we were all guilty of turning a blind eye (particularly Channel 4 who hired him) to the fact that nobody, no matter how famous, has sex with that many women without having issues with the meaning of consent.

He is now the subject of two ongoing criminal investigations by The Met and Thames Valley Police in relation to nine alleged offences, plus there is a rape accusation against him in America. Brand denies all claims of wrongdoing and has issued a statement saying his relationships were ‘always consensual’.

Then there’s hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, who resigned from his company after 13 women came forward to accuse him of sexual assault or harassment over a period of 25 years. He denied the allegations.

Last year, the boss of the CBI, Tony Danker, stepped down after allegations of misconduct — three more CBI employees have been ­suspended while an investigation takes place.

Meanwhile, in October Crispin Blunt, former MP for Reigate, was arrested on suspicion of rape. Blunt has said in a tweet that he’s ‘ready to cooperate fully with the investigation that I am confident will end without charge’.

These are all powerful men against whom increasing numbers of women have come forward with allegations, and, while they have not been ­convicted in a court of law, they have lost in the court of public opinion, all having to leave prominent posts as a result.

But what of all the men who have misbehaved in the past and have got away with it?

I have heard from a number of women who are debating whether they should go public about past sexual harassment. These include stories about a TV executive who took off his clothes in an employee’s flat while she was making coffee; a TV chef who is notoriously ‘handsy’ with the female runners; and any number of politicians behaving appallingly at party conferences.

One woman, an actress I will call Fiona, told me how she got to the final two for a career-defining part in a theatrical production. The famous, award-winning director asked her for a meeting at the theatre to ­discuss the role.

The woman told me that when she entered the room there was an assistant present, but then the assistant left. The director made a direct sexual advance to the woman, with the clear implication that if she complied, she would get the role. She rejected the advance and left.

Afterwards she called her agent and told them that she had been propositioned, at which the agent apparently said: ‘Well, I hope to goodness you didn’t say no.’

This encounter took place around 15 years ago, but it is clear it has left an indelible mark on Fiona. She became emotional when telling me the story and who can blame her? She says she never recovered her confidence after that, and her career suffered as a result.

I wondered how many other women had been put in the same position by that director. I have met the man in question and I would never have imagined him to be a sexual predator, but Fiona is completely credible.

The fact is, much has changed since then. I doubt very much that if she had told her story at the time, anyone would have taken it up. I suspect it would have been spun as the revenge of an ‘unstable’ actress who didn’t get a part.

Now, however, the tenor of public opinion has changed. After the ­revelations about Weinstein’s ­behaviour, I don’t think anyone has trouble imagining that a powerful man in the entertainment business might have felt he was entitled to ­casting couch privileges.

Having worked in television for 30 years I think what the internet trolls call a ‘witch hunt’ against ­sexually predatory men is the tip of the iceberg, and feel certain there are other executives, ­producers and directors who are ­wondering: am I next?

I think, hope, things are better now, but I know there are men still on our screens who must wake up wondering if this is the day their past behaviour will be exposed.

Of course, there are some people who will think that there should be a statute of limitations on bad ­behaviour, especially if that person is talented. In France, there has been a debate about Gerard Depardieu. He has been accused of rape and other sexual assaults by 14 women. But 50 actors and actresses, including Carla Bruni and Charlotte ­Rampling, signed a petition asking that we effectively turn a blind eye. ­Depardieu ­himself has denied the claims, saying: ‘I am neither a ­rapist nor a predator.’

‘Gerard Depardieu is probably the greatest of all actors,’ says the letter. ‘Attacking Depardieu is an assault on art.’ Even the French president Emmanuel Macron came out for Depardieu, saying on television that he ‘makes France proud’.

A few days later, a ­counter-­petition signed by more than 8,000 younger members of the French ­entertainment industry called the first one ‘a dismissal of all victims of sexual violence’, adding: ‘This is a grim and perfect illustration of a world that prevents changes.’

Now the French minister of ­culture has demanded that ­Depardieu be stripped of his Legion d’honneur, the ­highest of French decorations. The rape charge and 13 other allegations of harassment and assault are ­currently being investigated.

The morning after I went public about Daniel Korski groping me, an email appeared in my inbox. It was from a woman detailing how she had also been groped by ­Korski and how the attack had left her feeling angry and humiliated.

It was the first of five responses I received, one of which described a far more serious assault that had left her seriously upset and shaken. Years later she was still ­suffering from the damage to her ­confidence and career. I have now spoken to enough women who have been assaulted to know it can mark a woman for life. But is it right that a man’s reputation can be trashed in the Press without any formal charges being brought? The basis of our legal ­system is that a defendant is presumed innocent.

The problem is the legal ­system is positively ­sclerotic when it comes to dealing with these kind of cases. Indeed, it’s clear that when it comes to justice for victims of sexual assault, the law courts in Britain are not fit for purpose.

Why would a woman go through the hell of reporting a crime to the police, when the likelihood of a perpetrator being charged, prosecuted and found guilty of rape is just 1 per cent?

In the year to December 2021, there were 67,125 rape offences recorded — an all-time high. Yet only 5 per cent of those resulted in a charge. You’re then reliant on a results-driven Crown Prosecution Service, which prosecutes only when there’s a realistic prospect of a conviction.

On the rare ­occasions it does go ahead, the ­victim often then has to wait years before the case reaches court.

The root cause may be that juries in Britain are ­reluctant to convict on the testimony of one person in rape and sexual assault cases. I have a friend who is a judge who despairs of this. He is privy to the accused’s previous record. But no matter how strongly he directs the jury in light of this knowledge, it is rare to get a guilty verdict.

Crispin Odey was acquitted of indecent assault in 2021 in a court case brought by a single woman. It was only when the Financial Times published a story quoting allegations from 13 women that he was forced to resign. Odey denied the allegations, calling them ‘rubbish’.

So many women who have been the victims of assault feel that somehow they were to blame. But once you realise you are one of many, you see quite clearly that it was never your fault. This is why it is important for women to speak out, even if they feel, like me, relatively unscathed.

To this end I am considering setting up a body to help women who want to speak out, and to help them identify other victims.

Nobody wants to believe that otherwise lovable men do awful things, but I think it is vital we are all made aware of how widespread this behaviour has been. Men like Harvey Weinstein are not just bad apples, they are symptomatic of the kind of behaviour that has gone on for decades unchecked.

I hope and believe 2024 is the year when all women who have been suffering in silence feel able to talk about their experiences publicly. I am not talking about one drunken fumble that stops when a woman says no; I am talking about a man in a position of authority who thinks this somehow gives him droit de seigneur. I think a man like Depardieu who has 14 allegations of sexual ­misbehaviour against him has a very hard case to answer.

If there are abusive men reading this who fear getting their comeuppance, then I am glad. It’s 2024 and, yes, they should be fearful.



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