Why are there increased searches for people's "net worth" when they've been accused of sexual misconduct?
On December 11th, celebrity chef and restaurateur Mario Batali became the latest name on a growing list of high profile men to be accused of sexual misconduct, launching the American public back into the growing dialogue about sexual harassment and assault. For his part, the Food Network star has not denied the allegations, but similarly to each publicized case before it, the accusations against Batali have led onlookers to question the victims, their credibility, and their motivations.
So — according to data from Google trends — why do people start wondering about an alleged assaulter’s “net worth” when they are accused of sexual misconduct? The habit actually reveals a lot about America’s victim-shaming ideology.
In a time when, every week, the list of high profile men accused of sexual misconduct multiplies, the narrative surrounding sexual misconduct accusations becomes fairly predictable: A victim comes forward, the accuser denies all the claims, the public plays judge and jury to both parties, and, ultimately, the victims are as mercilessly scrutinized as the alleged culprits. It’s an unfair cycle that benefits the accused and punishes the victims — but it seems as though that has finally started to change, slowly.
As more powerful men lose their jobs and positions of power as a result of sexual abuse and misconduct, it seems that Americans are finally ready to start believing victims instead of questioning them. (Well, at least some Americans are.)
There is still a large part of our culture that challenges a victim’s accusations with questions regarding their financial motivations.
Massive search spike for “Mario Batali net worth” during the week of his sexual misconduct accusations:
Following the news of the celebrity chef’s sexual misconduct allegations, “Mario Batali net worth” increased as a Google search term. Like so many previous sexual harassment and assault cases, the accusations against Batali have led to the same line of questioning from the public:
In other words, how much money does a lying woman stand to gain from taking down a rich and powerful man?
Massive search spike for “Matt Lauer net worth” during the week of November 26th-December 2nd, when the news of his firing first broke:
As quickly as people question what a woman wore or whether or not she said “no,” they also wonder about the net worth of those accused of sexual misconduct. This seemingly automatic response suggests a deeper victim-shaming ideology has become ingrained into our culture. It implies that not only are the victims lying, but they are leveling accusations against “innocent” men in order to steal money from them. When a victim of sexual harassment or assault brings allegations forward, let alone seeks financial restitution from their harassers or assailants, many in the public (and, at times, in the media) quickly cast them as money grubbers or fame seekers in the narrative.
The public is quick to fret over how much of the accused’s fortune will be taken from them as a result of sexual misconduct allegations, but they rarely ask about what the victims have already lost. The truth is that it’s the victims of sexual harassment and assault who have money stolen from them — not the other way around.
While it may feel wrong to talk about sexual harassment and assault in terms of money, in all reality, sexual misconduct is as much of a social issue as it is an economic one. Not only do American companies pay over $295 million for sexual harassment claims each year, but victims of sexual harassment and assault pay a steep price, emotionally, mentally, and financially. While it is impossible to assign a dollar amount to the job opportunities lost by victims of sexual misconduct as a result of their trauma (and the financial retaliation faced by those who do report their abusers), it isn’t hard to imagine that the number far exceeds what the accused pay in the rare cases that lead to settlements.
Massive search spike for “Harvey Weinstein net worth” during the week of October 8th-October 14th (The New York Times published the first story about Weinstein allegations on October 5th):
Instead of questioning the amount of money that a victim is trying to “steal” from the accused, we should be asking how much of the victim’s salary is lost as a result of their trauma, or as a result of career blacklisting by their abuser. Rather than judging their desire to seek financial compensation, we should be calculating the cost of their missed career opportunities. Our culture’s apparent knee-jerk reaction of doubting those who report because of falsely perceived financial motivations perpetuates a cycle that makes it harder for victims to come forward and seek justice.
It’s time to stop this endless cycle of victim-shaming, and start asking the questions that really matter. America — and survivors — deserve a better conversation.