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Why We Have to Examine Every Single Dusty Old Sexual Assault Accusation

In the film What Lies Beneath, Claire (Michelle Pfeifer) realizes her husband Norman (Harrison Ford), a powerful professor and scientist, had an affair with a student who has since gone missing and is haunting their house. She suspects he killed the woman and confronts him. He reluctantly admits to the affair, but says the girl killed herself when he ended things. In a panic, he disposed of the body in a lake, where it now remains anchored at the bottom, decomposing away. What’s done is done, he says, so they can finally put the past behind them and move on.

Claire refuses.

“That girl,” she says, “must be brought up.”

I think about this line often as I read fresh, nearly daily stories of the sexual abuse of women at the hands of powerful men who believed they were beyond reproach; tales of woe from everyday men now skittish about their every interaction with women; and protests that we shouldn’t be digging up every old sexual assault allegation to examine with fresh eyes.

On this last count, the abuses, the argument goes, are very old, sometimes going back years or even decades. To the fans and apologists of these men, old predatory tales don’t count in the same way, and may as well be decomposed bodies at the bottom of the lake. What’s done is done.

But Claire was right: The girls must be brought up.

Girls like Michelle Jonas. She was the girlfriend Christian Slater abused in 1997 and did a little jail time and rehab for trying to punch. Now Slater is playing Ricky Roma in David Mamet’s tribute to toxic masculinity Glengarry Glen Ross. And when he was interviewed by The Daily Beast about changing depictions of masculinity and a climate of abuse, his well-documented past naturally came up.

Interviewer Nico Hines asked Slater if he had any regrets about the incidents of “drunk driving, fighting with cops, trying to take a gun on a plane and violence against his girlfriend, after which he was jailed and sentenced to take part in a domestic abuse program,” Hines writes. “He was also charged with third-degree sexual abuse after an allegation of assault in the street that was later dropped.”

“I regret nothing,” Slater said.

Slater was then quick to give the correct comment du jour, claiming he’s “happy that women’s voices are being taken seriously and this age of secrecy and abuse of power era has to come to an end.”

But Hines wanted to make sure he really meant no regrets. If he’s so happy an age of abuse of power that victimizes women is ending, doesn’t he regret his own abuse of power toward his own girlfriend?

“What a salacious cunt this guy is!” Slater balked, before being whisked away by a publicist. Later, Slater emailed Hines that he shouldn’t have blown up at him, but “the question of regret is hard for me to reckon with.”

It’s hard for many of us, apparently. In the comments section of The A.V. Club’s reporting on the Slater outburst, commenters didn’t understand why Slater’s offenses would even be worth mentioning. “It happened decades ago, he served his time, and he moved on,” one commenter writes. “Why is it an issue to be broached now? Unlike most of these fucks, he actually faced public and legal consequences for his actions.”

Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing the ways in which many men benefited from a more sympathetic climate that can no longer stand. Plus, now Slater’s starring in a play about the very masculinity we no longer tolerate, much less celebrate. If he can offer politically correct gratitude that men’s reign of terror is coming to an end, why wouldn’t he regret his part in it? That climate, for what it’s worth, has shifted to the degree that if Slater were found to be punching his girlfriend now, he’d be immediately fired and recast.

The girls must be brought up.

Girls like 14-year-old Leigh Corfman, 16-year-old Wendy Miller, 17-year-old Debbie Wesson Gleason and 18-year-old Gloria Thacker Deason. Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore sexually pursued them all when he was a 32-year-old district attorney. Now, a fifth woman has emerged, Beverly Young Nelson, who says Moore sexually assaulted her at 16.

The 16 women who accuse Donald Trump of sexual assault dating back to the 1990s, including former wife Ivanka, journalist Natasha Stoynoff, businesswoman Jessica Leeds and former Miss USA contestant Temple Taggart, should be brought up.

The woman who accused Kobe Bryant of rape, a charge that never went to trial even though police said the injuries to the victim weren’t consistent with consensual sex, should be brought up.

The women who accused Bill Clinton of rape or assault or harassment dating back to the 1990s should be brought up. Juanita Broaddrick accused him of raping her in a hotel room in the 1990s. Paula Jones says he exposed his penis to her and instructed her to kiss it. Kathleen Willey said instead of giving her professional advice, he groped her, rubbed up against her and put her hand on his crotch to feel his boner.

It’s not only finally giving justice to the women whose stories were left to decompose at the bottom of a lake — it’s also calling out the forces that insulated and protected these men from consequences, regardless of their political leanings.

After all, as Caitlan Flanagan notes at The Atlantic, Clinton’s predatory patterns were not left to the “swift and pitiless justice that today’s accused men have experienced”; rather, he was rescued by the Democratic Party, Hillary herself and mainstream second-wave feminism. He even received a bow-wrapped gift from feminist spokesperson Gloria Steinem, who prescribedClinton sex-addiction therapy, rendering his crimes as nothing more than “passes” at women, not the accounts of assault they really are.

“If [Harvey] Weinstein and Mark Halperin and Louis C.K. and all the rest can be held accountable, so can our former president and so can his party, which so many Americans so desperately need to rise again,” Flanagan notes.

If such questions make us all a nation of salacious cunts, so be it. But at least we’re salacious cunts, finally, for the right reason. Ours is a salacious, cunty quest for justice, at long last! Regardless of the legal statute of limitations, our endless thirst for the righting of the wrongs of powerful men who’ve been abusing women carte blanche for decades means that our moral compass isn’t divided by party lines any longer, by antiquated mores that once gave the Roman Polanskis and Woody Allens a pass just because they made interesting films. It’s a force for excavation — the kind of force that wakes you up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, haunted enough to pull on your waist-high waders, grab a flashlight and trudge out into that lake.

The girls must be brought up. And while we’re at it, the boys, too — the men abused by Kevin Spacey, Charlie Sheen, Bryan Singer and all the others resurfacing in the lake at record speeds. It’s up to us to shine the light, meet their gaze, tell them we got it all wrong and finally try to get it right.