Hope crushed by false admirations

By Lara Sonuga, Editor-in-Chief

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It’s so unsettling to realize that someone you once felt overwhelming admiration for is capable of something so unforgivable.

We, as a society, find celebrities quite easy to look up to. They’re often talented, beautiful, charismatic, accomplished, likable — qualities that most people would love to have. Their positive characteristics inspire us to be the best possible versions of ourselves. With our generation’s access to social media platforms, we have the opportunity to interact with them and get to know every little detail of their lives through their posts.

We look up to them because they seem perfect. Until we remember that no one is perfect, regardless of how many awards they’ve won or Instagram followers they have. Everyone, famous or not, has sides to them that they would never want to reveal to the public.

Ed Westwick, a 30 year old actor from England, definitely has one of these sides.

He isn’t my favorite celebrity per se, but I found him to be an incredible actor and a seemingly kind-hearted and genuine person. He balances his villainous fictional personas, such as Chuck Bass in “Gossip Girl” and Tybalt in “Romeo and Juliet,” with a sunny personality. His social media platforms are filled with personable interviews, public donations to charities and empathetic posts in support of global tragedies. I used to think very highly of him, but a few months ago, my perception of him flipped upside down.

Within a span of eight days in early November, three different women reported sexual assault allegations against Westwick.

Nothing makes me happier than the fact that these women are comfortable enough to come forward and share their stories. However, I am simultaneously and paradoxically devastated.

It can be soul-crushing to idolize someone only to find out later that they’ve done something so disturbing and unforgivable. Feeling disgust towards someone you once felt admiration for, even if you don’t know them, can be heartbreaking. After reading the headlines about Westwick, I was heartbroken. I was hurt. I was confused.

My first inclination was to text my best friend, who responded to me with a question: “How do you reshape yourself and your identity after learning that someone you looked up to isn’t what they seem?”

She and I had similar conversations each time a different celebrity was accused of something similar. I found that talking about it got easier over time. I became less confused and less naive; I was quickly coming to terms with the fact that people who appear to be flawless are still capable of doing terrible things.

I was outraged at the fact that occurrences like these were happening so frequently and I was outraged that no one was talking about it. It wasn’t until 265 Olympic gymnasts took Dr. Lawrence Nassar to court that people started bringing up rape and sexual harassment in conversation.

Sexual assault can be a difficult subject to discuss, but I firmly believe that we need to keep talking about it.

Lately, more and more people have been coming forward with stories about their abusers, and I consider it to be an act of bravery. It’s such a sensitive topic, and speaking out about it often results in backlash for the victim, especially when their testimony involves a celebrity.

I’m so proud of every woman and man who has spoken out about their experiences, and endured all the risks that came along with telling their story. My heart goes out to the women who were brave enough to speak out against Westwick.

Unfortunately, he is far from being the only celebrity to be in the public eye for sexual assault accusations.

James Franco, actor. Al Franken, senator. The NFL’s Heath Evans, Ike Taylor and Marshall Faulk. Louis CK, comedian. Melanie Martinez, singer. George H.W. Bush, former president. Donald J. Trump, current president.

All of these seemingly unrelated people, among countless others, are bonded together through sexual assault allegations. According to USA Today, over 100 celebrities have been publicly accused of similar crimes since last October, when allegations against Harvey Weinstein were brought forward.

It is important for our society to recognize that these people need to be held accountable for their actions. They may be powerful, wealthy and talented, but none of their accomplishments or good deeds can excuse the blatant violation of another human being.

It’s easy to want to say, “No, James Franco is my favorite actor, there’s no way he could sexually assault someone,” or “Melanie Martinez seems like such a sweet girl, she would never do something like that.” It’s easy to want to believe that these allegations of sexual misconduct could be false. Unfortunately, it is equally likely that the accusations are true. We need to stop discrediting the people who are bringing these allegations forward.

Instead of dismissing them, we need to encourage those who have been subjected to sexual harassment to speak up. Their experiences and emotions are valid, regardless of their age or gender. The victims’ stories deserve to be heard.

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