On Thursday, April 19, Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News for allegations of sexual assault. However, most of these sexual assault allegations came years before the eventual firing of O’Reilly. What really prompted Fox to sever ties with O’Reilly was the drop in advertisers on Fox as well as a drop in their stock.
The first lawsuit against O’Reilly came in 2004 by a producer on his show which claimed that he was harassing her with explicit phone calls. Andrea Mackris stated that O’Reilly would call her and suggest lewd comments such as “buying a vibrator” or he would call while masturbating and would attempt to have phone sex. Despite these claims, the case was settled without a trial.
The New York Times also reported the amount of money being paid to women who made such allegations to keep them quiet. Since then, 52 advertisers pulled their ads from O’Reilly’s show. The Times reported that at least five women received payments from Fox in exchange for their silence of whatever they endured. This is not the first time Fox encountered such allegations. Roger Ailes who was a Fox News chairman also was let go from Fox after allegations of sexual assault from Gretchen Carlson, a former anchor. However, even Carlson was paid off with a $34 million settlement.
While some may be tempted to argue that the money is more than enough and should heal any sort of miscommunication, the problem here is much larger. Any woman who has been followed home, cat-called, or felt uncomfortable in situations where someone else has tried to make unsolicited sexual advances understands that this speaks to a larger issue. Every worker should have the right to a safe workplace. Unwanted flirting, sexual comments and sexual advances—especially in an environment where everyone is expected to be professional—are often overlooked. However, these comments and advances are distracting, they threaten one’s own autonomous security and it allows fear to enter the workplace for the victim. The same fear that is felt when a young girl is followed home on the subway or on the street exists when a fellow employee or even worse a supervisor makes sexual advances. Victims of this type of sexual assault are then caught in a situation where they do not want to create fuss in order to protect their job but also where their very private space is violated. The fact that allegations alone were not enough for Fox to take action within their workplace is a let-down that is not surprising to any woman.
However, it is difficult for companies to take action against sexual assault seriously when our own president has allegations of sexual assault against him. Trump has been accused of marital rape, sexual assault within American Dream pageants and even actual video footage of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women. None of these disgusting, outright violations of a woman’s human rights disturbed his campaign. He came out of the 2016 election victorious. While all these allegations say something about Trump, O’Reilly and Ailes, it also says something about our culture.
While some can argue that we as a society have come a long way for women’s rights and rape survivors, the fact that we as a nation elected a rapist disproves all of that. As a nation and as a society, we are willing to overlook allegations of rape or sexual assault, especially against those in public light. Before you say this isn’t a big deal and that most of these are allegations anyway, imagine all the rape survivors who see these men continuously being pardoned for rape, who see these rapists not only pardoned but also celebrated as amazing people despite what they have done.
Consider the message we are sending the youth of our nation: we, as a nation, do not care if someone rapes you as long as they are entertaining to watch, or is of some value to society. We tell victims that even if they come forward, they shouldn’t do it at the expense of someone’s career or public image and we tell potential sex offenders that as long as allegations remain just allegations, they will be excused. We prioritize our own entertainment over the violation of millions of victims’ human rights and safety. The implicit messages we send to young girls and boys are incredibly detrimental. Consider this before you are quick to criticize why a victim might not want to come forward and why coming forward might put this victim at risk. We as a society and a nation must do better to force those who commit crimes (yes, rape and sexual harassment is a crime) to be responsible for their actions.