Notes & Essays

Opinion: It's Hard to Support Artists Accused of Sexual Abuse So We Shouldn't

But we should at least hear them out.
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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Spend enough time on Twitter and you’ll eventually encounter the latest attempt to call-out or cancel somebody. The latest seems to be against a writer, poet, and singer-songwriter who is well-known in certain circles as the creator of a hugely popular digital TV series dealing with queer issues. He's being accused of sexual harassment and/or abuse by a talent and, supposedly, by a couple of other people.

Facts are hard to come by at this point. There have been a few cryptic tweets from one of the actors of the series, as well as a general statement from a studio chief promising to “look into” the matter, but there have been no direct accusations leveled against the alleged perpetrator. That hasn’t stopped him from nope-ing out of the whole sordid ordeal. Last we checked, his Twitter account is inaccessible, which is a big deal considering how active he was on the platform before this all came to light.

The bigger issue, though, is whether vague reports and innuendo are enough to completely wreak havoc on a person’s career and, indeed, his entire life. And what effect this might have on the person himself—his livelihood, his art, and his following, which is sizable, judging by his mentions, not to mention the popularity of the series he helped birth.

First, it still surprises me how incredibly cavalier people can get when hopping on the trending bandwagon with little or no facts at hand. Expressing shock about the reports is one thing, but there are people who have no qualms about crucifying and immediately piling on someone at the barest hint of a scandal. Whatever happened to treading lightly, waiting for more information to come out, and verifying what’s already out there before spewing hate and disgust? 

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The #MeToo movement completely upended the way society handles allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, helping take the rich and powerful to account. But we need to remember that all of its most high-profile cases—against people like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and others—are rooted in first-person testimony and verifiable facts. Public outrage was understandable and the fallout swift and severe, but all were based on evidence presented not just on respected news media but, in many cases, in actual courts of law.

Trial by publicity happening on social media is something else. In the case of Mr. Writer, public sentiment had already shifted heavily against him even before any shred of evidence or even official testimony that specifically and unequivocally mentions his name ever came out in the open. He’d been driven out of Twitter and practically declared persona non grata on the tidal wave of innuendo and schadenfreude alone.

Of course, one can argue that might be the actions of the guilty, but that’s not what this is about. The point here isn’t about granting the accused a stay of execution so much as it’s about remaining cautious and circumspect about what we ourselves put out based merely on hearsay and our own flimsy prejudices. That’s what happened to the suspects of the Christine Dacera case, the Colourette Cosmetics CEO, and a handful of others. We all tend to be quick on dumping hate on someone when we’re doing it from the safety of our phones, tablets, and laptops.

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Of course, knowing Filipinos’ penchant for bandwagoning and tendency to fire off tirades without giving it a second thought, I doubt this reminder will make a dent. But here’s hoping. 

That said, in case the alleged perpetrator turns out to actually be guilty—whether by his own admission or proven in formal proceedings—the question now turns to whether he deserves forgiveness and acceptance by the people who feel most betrayed by his actions—the alleged victims and his fans.

We can’t speak for the accusers as we can’t even begin to imagine the horror and trauma they went through. Whether or not they decide to give Mr. Writer a pass is completely up to them.

But as for the accused’s standing in the current cultural zeitgeist, that will depend on his own level of contrition, and whether or not he truly feels remorse and is ready to make amends.

The age-old dilemma surrounding these types of cases involving people in the creative industry remains the same—whether one can separate the art from the artist. There’s never been a clear-cut answer. In Mr. Writer’s case, he’s still a relatively young person who has already built quite an impressive body of work that has not only won awards, but is intensely beloved by a whole legion of adoring fans. He might not be thinking about it now as he’s perhaps more concerned about managing the immediate effects of the scandal, but eventually he’s going to have to decide if he can crawl back into an industry that he once seemingly stood on top of. He’s going to have to find people who would be willing to work with him in spite of this dark cloud that will be following him likely for the rest of his life. And he’s going to have to contend with a mostly cruel and unforgiving audience, many of whom will have no problem trashing him or his work the first chance they get.

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We feel bad for Mr. Writer, for alleged indiscretions that he’ll probably spend a lifetime trying to get over. But while details are still sketchy, we feel worse about the accusers. Nobody deserves to be sexually harassed or assaulted, under any circumstances, no matter their age, gender, or economic standing. And having to relive the stress and pain of that experience out in public is a whole ‘nother thing altogether.

We look forward to the truth eventually making its way out, but in this case where so much has yet to surface, we’re always going to err on the side of the victims. We hope they find justice in whatever form they see fit, and if that means denying the accused the opportunity to share his art to the world, then so be it.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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