When someone has an affair it is often the deception that causes the most damage – even more than the cheating itself. But when lying and cheating meets a power imbalance, the destruction they can cause is enormous.
The recent allegations around Harvey Weinstein are a case in point. Widely regarded as one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, Weinstein is now facing allegations of decades of sexual abuse, with 38 woman – including Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, and Angelina Jolie – coming forward to date with allegations about his sexual misconduct and rape, and at least eight historic settlements. A word from Weinstein could change the course of an actor’s career, for better or worse, and everyone knew it. That amount of power, together with a strong sense of entitlement are key ingredients for abusive behavior.
It doesn’t matter how rich and pretty you are or the fact that he’s a big fat, ugly guy. The reason they do it is that they know they can get away with it. One of the cases I worked on a few years ago involved all of these elements. My client was married to a senior Judge who it turned out had been in a long-term relationship with another woman. When my client became suspicious, she approached some of his colleagues who she thought were also her friends. Because of her husband’s position of power in the industry, his colleagues denied any knowledge of his affair – although they must have known full well what was going on.
Last week, Bob Weinstein and the three remaining board members at The Weinstein Company issued a statement denying prior knowledge of the shocking allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, insisting that any “suggestion that the Board had knowledge of this conduct is false.” But on October 11, the New York Times posted an article on their website claiming that the board has known about the payoffs to Weinstein's victims since at least 2015.
When someone is very powerful within their industry they often co-opt in many others in their “walls of deception”. This make them feel even more powerful and almost invincible – at least until it all starts to fall apart.
According to the stories coming out, Weinstein clearly had a modus operandi that involved calling the target into his hotel room, then demanding they give him a naked massage or watch him shower. Playing out a scene over and over like this is common in cases of serial philanderers I have worked on. It is almost like they are rehearsing a scene in play, trying to get all of the aspects of the scene perfect.
And they do “perfect their craft” – so much so that sometimes even their nearest and dearest don’t know what is going on. One particular case comes to mind for me. My client knew something was wrong, but couldn’t quite put her finger on it. As it turned out, not only was her husband cheating, he was dating seven woman at the same time! When I told her the news she was baffled – she kept saying “he’s such a busy man, how does he find the time to do it?” It was the pull of sex, and as with Weinstein, the only way her husband got away with it for years was by following the same pattern over and over again.
Lying is learned behavior. The chances of your partner cheating are much higher if they learned about infidelity when they were very young. Take Tiger Woods, for instance. His father Earl cheated on and brutally dumped his first family in favor of Tiger and his Thai mistress. Despite the fact that Tiger complained about his dad’s “other women”, surprise, surprise, it turns out in the end he was up to the same old tricks as his father. It is still too early to know in the case of Weinstein, but it wouldn’t come as any surprise to me if we found out that there were strong messages in his childhood reinforcing the entitlement of males who have power and connections.
It’s important to remember that, as Weinstein himself is finding out, in many ways the cheater is just as trapped by his or her lies as the victims. They just may not know it yet.