With actress Sand Van Roy’s sexual assault allegations against French filmmaker Luc Besson — originally made in May but not brought to the public’s attention until July — sexual assault in Hollywood and #MeToo is back in the media’s attention.
The allegations being against Besson specifically highlights the flaws in the #MeToo movement’s global ambitions — especially as they pertain to the average person and, most glaringly, how they impact citizens of developing countries.
Besson was accused of sexually harassing and raping Van Roy. In the time since her accusation, multiple other women — including a casting director who worked with Besson — came forward to allege that the director harassed them in the workplace and made undesired passes at them. Van Roy’s ability to speak up, therefore, allowed other women to speak about their experiences with Besson.
The importance of sexual assault cases has been rightly reiterated by the media with every abuser brought to light before Besson. The media coverage of entertainment industry sexual assault cases has time and time again stated the still-looming presence of sexual predators in powerful positions, as well as the importance of holding assaulters accountable.
The allegations against Besson are some of the first to demonstrate the importance of accountability in a global context. His international presence draws attention to the fact that the problems that movements such as #MeToo champion are not only synonymous with the United States. These issues are global and they must be treated as such.
#MeToo is about encouraging sexual violence victims around the world to find their voices. The official website for the movement states that its goal is “to reframe and expand the global conversation around sexual violence to speak to the needs of a broader spectrum of survivors.” Inherently, the movement was founded not only to help raise awareness for assault victims in Hollywood, but to have a global impact. So why is it that few foreign figures besides Besson have been called out by the movement?
Besson made it into the spotlight because he is a member of the Hollywood community. It’s hard to remember that #MeToo is a movement for everyone when most of the media coverage is isolated to cases in Hollywood. While millions of people have found the power to use the hashtag and expose their experiences with sexual abuse on social media, media outlets rarely write about the average person’s survival.
Although the Besson allegations appear to prove that #MeToo has a global presence, they actually just prove that it is a Western-centric movement. Importantly, one of the first big international names to be exposed by the movement is a French man who works in Hollywood. While Besson is technically a foreign figure, his case — though important in its own right — does not add anything new to the conversation about sexual assault.
In constantly highlighting Western stories of sexual assault, the media breezes over the colossal number of sexual violence tragedies occurring in developing countries. When actresses stand up during their acceptance speeches and encourage all women to speak out against their assaulters, they are seemingly ignorant of the fact that not everyone has the privilege of being able to speak up.
In an interview with Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah painted a picture of his trip to South Africa with Chelsea Handler. He told of how, during a talk with a group of African women about domestic violence and assault, Handler told the women that they needed to band together and take down their abusive husbands. The women responded that she had clearly never met an African man before.
While Noah tells this story in a comedic tone, it depicts the problem that #MeToo promoters are perpetrating. All women should be able to find their voices against assault. That doesn’t mean all women can. A large number of women in developing countries are trapped in oppressive relationships and many women fear for their lives. Others live in places such as Algeria and Iran, where they can’t go to the police because laws don’t protect them against domestic violence and marital rape.
The world is not on the same page when it comes to sexual assault. Not every country recognizes the severity of the issue, nor do they all give their citizens, especially women, the rights they need to fight back. And Hollywood needs to be more aware of that fact. Those who champion the #MeToo movement need to work with activists in these countries to make it so that those who say #MeToo can loudly speak out and fight back.
The allegations against Besson are deeply troubling, and Van Roy and the other accusers deserve justice to the same degree as anyone else. But that equality of justice isn’t available to all who have faced sexual violence. It’s not available to people who don’t have the privilege of coming forward, who aren’t members of Hollywood and whose stories don’t make it into media coverage.
There is no doubt that the #MeToo movement and its Hollywood supporters are raising awareness about sexual assault. But those in the movement need to be doing more to effect tangible change. If they preach that no woman should be afraid to come forward against her assaulter, then they need to work to dismantle the institutions that these women are afraid of.