By John Winer
One of Hollywood’s darkest chapters is ending after a New York jury convicted movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and rape but acquitted him of predatory sexual assault.
It’s a vindication for the #MeToo movement which gave a voice to sexual assault and abuse survivors who feared no one would listen or believe them if they came forward.
Weinstein’s accusers are credited with triggering a sea change in the way our culture views sexual harassment. The outcry sparked a national conversation about toxic workplace culture and its stunning ripple effect resulted in the ouster of some of the most powerful and wealthy leaders in industries across the board.
The revelations uncovered in 2017 by brave and tenacious reporters with the New Yorker and the New York Times suggested Weinstein was one of the most prolific and protected sex predators of our time. He was accused of sexual harassment or assault by at least 100 women. Many of these accusations date back decades to a time when Weinstein leaned on his close connections with media outlets to suppress unflattering articles. He was notorious for enforcing nondisclosure agreements to silence his victims and threatened lawsuits against any reporter who attempted to dig deeper.
The response to the wave of negative publicity was swift and severe. The Weinstein Company he founded fired him, and both the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and Directors Guild of American quickly cut ties. A year later the disgraced Hollywood power player was indicted by a New York grand jury and arrested for rape and criminal sex act charges.
Weinstein’s month-long criminal trial focused on five charges involving two women. Jessica Mann said Weinstein raped her in a New York hotel room in March 2013 and Miriam “Mimi” Haley said Weinstein assaulted her in his New York apartment in 2006.
The prosecution presented six accusers who stunned courtroom observers with shocking and salacious descriptions about how the movie tycoon wielded his wealth and influence to harass, intimidate and assault women.
The defense attorneys did their best to put his accusers on trial, by forcing them to explain friendly email exchanges or rationalize why they engaged in consensual sex acts with Weinstein. In closing arguments Weinstein’s attorney urged jurors to use “common sense” and challenge the victims’ accounts of what happened.
This a common tactic to make the victim feel like it was all her fault, that her behavior caused the misconduct or that she could have somehow prevented the abuse by just walking away or ignoring phone calls. There is no consent when someone holds power over someone who believes they will lose a job, their reputation or their career because they refuse the perpetrator’s advances.
The accusers who testified did so as “MeToo” witnesses as part of the prosecution’s effort to show evidence of Weinstein’s pattern of behavior. After four days of deliberation, the jury rejected prosecutors’ argument that Weinstein was a “predator,” finding that the evidence failed to support the more serious charges, apparently because they did not believe the rape allegations of “Sopranos” star Annabella Sciorra. That underscores just how difficult it is to prosecute rape cases especially when it’s a “he said/she said” situation.
Weinstein’s legal troubles continue to mount after Los Angeles District Attorney, Jackie Lacey filed four more counts of rape and sexual battery in January 2020. The new charges involve two women who say Weinstein attacked them in hotels in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills in 2013.
Weinstein’s fate is partially the result of dozens of accusers who call themselves the “Silence Breakers”. They risked their personal and professional lives to speak out about sexual battery and abuse to shine a light on a dark and disturbing injustice. Advocates are hoping Weinstein’s guilty verdict will embolden more victims to report sex crimes, especially incidents that involving people in positions of power, which may result in more successful prosecutions of sex offenders.