We Need to Talk about Casey Affleck’s Sexual Harassment Suit

  • Copy by: Daryl Lindsey

We need to talk about Casey Affleck.

The actor, 41, just took home Best Actor in a Leading Role, the most prestigious award an actor can win, at the 89th Academy Awards Sunday. He’s taken award season by storm, with his performance in “Manchester by the Sea” earning him a BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Critic’s Choice Award. In fact, the only big award Affleck didn’t win this year was the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor, which went to Denzel Washington for “Fences.”

Affleck’s performance in “Manchester by the Sea,” which follows the story of a man who becomes the guardian of his nephew after his brother’s death, is, admittedly, striking. So striking, it would seem, that the allegations of sexual harassment against him did little –– nothing, actually –– to slow his career’s momentum, which culminated in winning the Oscar Sunday (Brie Larson, who presented the award and won an Oscar last year for “Room,” in which she portrayed a victim of rape, refused to clap for Affleck after handing him the award.)

Two women who worked on “I’m Still Here,” the mockumentary Affleck created with Joaquin Phoenix, filed lawsuits in 2010 accusing Affleck of harassment. Court documents detail their claims against him, which are troubling at best, criminal at worst, and absolutely disgusting no matter what. According to the lawsuit, Affleck talked at length about his sexual exploits while working with the two women, made repeated advances on them, forced a friend and fellow crew member to expose his genitals to one of them despite her repeated protests, used physical force to attempt to intimate one of them to stay in his hotel room, and crawled into bed with one of them while she was sleeping, putting his hands on her body in “an unwanted sexual advance.”

Affleck denied the claims and threatened to countersue, though Mashable reports the cases were settled out of court to the “satisfaction of both parties.”

Let’s be clear here: The accusations against Affleck were never brought before a criminal court. He was not, and will likely never be, convicted of sexual misconduct.

That doesn’t mean we can ignore it. It doesn’t mean we can pretend it didn’t happen, just because the accused happens to be a good actor, or because he didn’t have to serve jail time. If we let this slide without talking about it, we normalize abusive behavior and continue to send the message that, hey, don’t worry, harassing and assaulting women isn’t actually that bad.

Let’s talk about harassment “not actually being that bad,” for a second, because it’s an argument I’ve actually heard used to defend Affleck.

Can we dispel the myth that women would lie about assault in order to ruin a man’s career or advance their own?

In the lawsuit, Affleck’s misconduct is labeled as “harassment” instead of “assault.” The people (all of whom, funnily enough, are men) I’ve heard come to Affleck’s defense are quick to point out this distinction. Well, excuse me, if I woke up with a man in my bed I did not invite there, touching me in an “unwanted sexual advance,” you can sure as hell bet I would categorize that as assault. Perhaps people shrug off the word “harassment,” because to them, it doesn’t actually sound that bad. It might even be all in good fun, like whistling at a woman on the sidewalk. (Which you also should never, ever do. Just don’t.) People seem to be justifying Affleck’s behavior because it wasn’t categorized as a violent crime, which baffles me. If anything on that long, long list of accusations happened to any woman I know, I’m certain it would feel pretty damn violent to her.

Powerful men have managed to get away with harassing women beneath them on the proverbial totem pole for as long as there have been proverbial totem poles. It’s happening right now, as we speak, at companies like Uber and Tesla. The problem is so pervasive it even shows up in TV show plotlines: In this week’s too-timely-for-comfort episode of “Girls,” Lena Dunham’s character Hannah is invited to the apartment of the rich and successful “troubled memoirist” Chuck Palmer, played by Matthew Rhys, after she wrote an article online condemning him for sexually exploiting his fans.

Hannah arrives at the apartment well aware of the type of man she is about to interact with, but her guard weakens as Chuck begins to lather her with compliments, all while layering in tidbits about his life to make him seem human and well-intentioned.

“I’m not perfect, but I’m not saying I’m perfect,” Chuck tells Hannah. This is a man who’s been accused of forcing blowjobs of college girls, but it took mere minutes for Hannah to begin seeing him as “complicated” and “misunderstood” instead of a sexually-deviant scumbag. That is the society we live in: A society in which men can do just about anything and get away with it, as long as they’re successful, artistic, and “flawed.” It’s an umbrella excuse, under which Affleck, too, is taking shelter. His performance was too good, they say, for a silly old harassment allegation to get in the way.

Affleck’s other defense is one that is used so often for people accused of sexual misconduct: That his accusers are simply lying to ruin Affleck’s career. After all, Affleck vehemently denied the claims against him, and since the civil cases were settled out of court, we’ll never really know what happened. In the motion Affleck’s lawyer filed to seek an out-of-court venue, Affleck claimed one of his accusers “concocted this fabricated sexual harassment lawsuit over a year after she failed in her devious attempt to extort a better production deal.”

First of all, can we please dispel the myth that women would ever lie about harassment or assault in order to ruin a man’s career or advance their own? The statistics are clear: Only about 2 percent or fewer of sexual assault accusations are false, which is on par with accusations of any other crime. Beyond that, what could ever lead someone to believe a woman would report harassment or assault with the intention of bolstering a career for themselves?

If Affleck’s accusers’ case, the opposite is true. Here’s an excerpt from the initial filing:

During her 16 years working in the entertainment industry, [the Plaintiff] has never accused anyone of sexual harassment. She has never filed a lawsuit against anyone for any reason. And she has struggled with her decision to file this lawsuit — she is justifiably concerned about the effect this lawsuit will have on her career.

The sad truth of the matter is that we live in a world where reporting sexual assault is a far riskier career move than actually committing one.

Woody Allen’s been honored by the Academy Awards despite accusations of sexually abusing his adopted daughter. So has Roman Polanski, even after he pleaded guilty to raping a 13-year-old girl. Mel Gibson pled no contest in 2011 to punching his ex-girlfriend repeatedly in the face, but he landed a Best Director nomination at the Oscars this year.

Meanwhile, actress Constance Wu (“Fresh off the Boat”) said even speaking about the accusations against Affleck would negatively impact her career, thanks to the Affleck family’s far-reaching Hollywood connections.

“I’ve been counseled not to talk about this for career’s sake,” she tweeted. “F my career then, I’m a woman and human first. That’s what my craft is built on.”

So, yes. As women and as humans, we need to talk about Casey Affleck. We need to stop side-stepping conversations that make us uncomfortable and instead get angry and vocal that so many people can commit heinous crimes and not just get away with it, but be publicly glorified and honored. We need to demand studios stop making films with actors accused of assault, and put our money where our mouths are by refusing to pay to see those films until they do.

If we don’t, assault and harassment will continue to be normalized, and this won’t be the last time we see someone like Affleck climbing up onto that stage to be handed a golden statue.

  • Hagar Moussali

    Great article, by normalizing this type of behaviour against those we deem “successful” or “higher up”, we give the rest of the population the idea that this type of behaviour is okay, and more importantly, that the voices of victimes will not be heard.

  • Dee

    I agree, this is a really great article. Thanks for writing it. You should circulate it more! I had a very unhelpful thought at one point: If that woman who found him in bed with her were able to “physically defend’ herself and remove him out of bed and her room, and perhaps leave some emotional or physically scars on him along the way…would that be considered harassment or assault (if he counter sued)?

  • Lauren

    Thank you for writing this, as I could not agree more with what you’ve said. I’m so sickened by the awards and accolades he is receiving, and how so many have chosen to ignore these accusations. His response has been disgustingly arrogant, as well.

    • Srs224

      Just a note, not defending him or anything, but legally he or any of the women, cannot comment on the case. It’s part of the settlement.

  • Amie Melnychuk

    Thank you, especially for pointing out that 2% of false accusations is the same as any other crime. Too often people are quick to think the victim is just trying to get attention, or saying a large number of reported assaults are fabricated. 2% is a small percent, and it needs to be said more.

    Can you provide the source for that stat? I’d like to use it to back up arguments.

    • The Everygirl

      Hi Amie, we would consult the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s report, which aggregates much of the data and research around reports of sexual assault in the United States. You can find it here: http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/Publications_NSVRC_Overview_False-Reporting.pdf

  • This is a great piece, thank you thank you for covering this topic, Daryl. The argument that a woman would file a sexual assault or harassment suit to get attention or to “advance their career” will never cease to baffle me. The scrutiny women (and men) face, the intense criticism they’re subjected to when they do bring sexual assault or harassment charges forward would seem to *deter* them from ever speaking out about it at all, not *encourage* them to do so to “advance their career.”

  • disqus_EfgFsJ3zPs

    You are right in everything you say. Only one thing is troubling to me. It never went to court so none of the allegations were proven. That is problem. Unless things are proven, you cannot condemn the man. Maybe next time something happens, it WILL go to court.

  • Rachel

    Such an important article – thank you for bringing this to light!

  • Nicole Wilkinson

    I cannot possibly disagree with you MORE. You are assuming that the allegations were true, and even dedicate an entire section of your article to the idea that somehow women never lie about these things. Sure, it might be rare for them to lie, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and that doesn’t mean we should just assume someone who’s been accused is actually guilty of what he’s accused of doing.
    Society is far too happy already to jump on the bandwagon of assuming someone is a criminal whether it’s been proven or not, without knowing a single thing about the situation other than that an accusation has been made. TheEveryGirl should be ashamed to be not only joining this bandwagon but encouraging others to join the bandwagon as well.
    Casey Affleck has never been found guilty nor liable in any court of law. No evidence of wrongdoing has ever been provided to the public, and he’s not able to defend himself in public anymore because of the gag order resulting from the settlement. That means that legally, he is innocent of all allegations and should be treated as such. And until a court actually finds him guilty or liable, I’m going to continue upholding one of the foundational principles of our legal system – innocence until proven guilty. You should be counselling others to do the same, not advising them to punish people just because someone said they did something bad.

    • Brittany

      No true. We was never brought to court because he SETTLED on the lawsuits. Make you think twice about whether he did what we was accused of, doesn’t it? If he is so innocent, as you claim, then he wouldn’t have settled so easily.

      Also, in case you live under a rock, our justice system is tragically flawed to benefit privileged white men (ex: Brock Turner) and protect them from having their own crimes have any real negative impact on their lives. Not quite sure a court of law would have even done much if the case got that far (but once again, HE SETTLED).

      Additionally, you are missing the ENTIRE point of the article. This article addresses a problem that is bigger than just Casey Affleck, it is addressing the fact that privileged men are able to succeed in their careers even after committing sexual and violent crimes. At this point, the abused’s career is more harmed because she spoke out than the abuser’s.

      • Nicole Wilkinson

        Actually settling when you’re innocent makes way more sense than settling when you’re guilty, particularly for celebrities. If this had gone to trial, whether he won or not it would have been splashed all over the tabloids far worse than it was just when there were accusations. Not to mention it saves a buttload of money and embarrassment to settle – do you have any idea how expense lawyers are? He’d have spent way more in legal fees fighting the accusations than he’d have paid if he had been found liable, I can almost guarantee that.

        I actually have a law degree so I’m very familiar with the legal system. It has its flaws but that doesn’t mean we should just assume that a man is guilty of bad behavior because someone said so.
        I get that that was one point, but you can’t make that point on the back of a case study where the person has not actually been found to have committed any crime. He’s INNOCENT legally so you can’t make the argument that his case is part of an overall pattern of white men getting away with wrongdoing. Like my original post said, all this article does is continue the horrible habit our society has of condemning men based on nothing more than the accusation even though he’s never been found guilty or liable in a court of law and no one’s heard any evidence other than the women’s say so, which has been contradicted by Casey Affleck who denied their allegations. You’re just joining the movement to assume he’s guilty, which is precisely the problem I pointed out.

  • Kay

    There is always a double standard for cases like this one. This is an example of White Male Privilege with little regard for women. A similar situation happened to actor, Nate Parker who was accused of rape right before his new film “The Birth of a Nation” was to be released. The only difference is that Nate Parker is a black male actor and the accuser is a white female (the case did go to court I believe). Nate denied the allegations and reported that the sex was consensual. He was acquitted. Once the 17-year-old allegations came up, Nate Parker was faced with scrutiny and his film (which could have been a contender for an Oscar) was overlooked by many because of the accusations. Sexual misconduct is wrong and the consequences of this behavior should not be contingent upon a person’s race or status. Unfortunately, being a white male of talent, success, and status, you get a pass.
    Another great article. Keep it up!

  • Dallin cervo

    You say “First of all, can we please dispel the myth that women would ever lie about harassment or assault in order to ruin a man’s career or advance their own? The statistics are clear: Only about 2 percent or fewer of sexual assault accusations are false” You’re argument goes against itself. The fact that there are cases where accusations are false is why we CAN’T dispel the “myth” that someone would lie about it. A myth means it’s false and the fact that it does happen, even though it is a small 2% is enough that we can’t dispel it. We can’t condemn a man for something that is unproven and are just allegations. Society is built and should be built upon being innocent until proven guilty. If not, society doesn’t have long.

    • Nicole Wilkinson

      Hear hear!

  • ANNESMITH

    Speaking regarding this case alone – As someone who frequently sees harassment claims made in my own workplace, one must remember that there are two sides to every story and that with the assistance of attorneys in the mix, plaintiffs are encouraged to make any claim that they have seem more salacious in order to ensure that damages are awarded at the level they wish to achieve.

    This is not to say these actions or some iteration thereof didn’t occur, but the fact that it was settled to the satisfaction of both parties seems to indicate that money changed hands. I can tell you from first hand experience – money is paid more often than not, on the slimmest of complaints to make the problem disappear. Truth is not being litigated. Damage control is the order of the day, whether the damage is real or an outright lie is a moot point.

    Whether this occurred as presented is immaterial at this point – the plaintiffs will always be the – in this case it seems – the well paid victims who can trot their grievance against the defendant out for the rest of his life. Those refusing to clap, congratulate, etc., need to remember that his victim accepted monetary payment and from a legal standpoint the matter is settled.