Following a two-week trial, Harvey Weinstein has been found guilty of rape and criminal sexual assault. He could face up to 25 years in prison and will be placed on the sex offender registry.
In his landmark Manhattan trial, Weinstein was found guilty of two charges, and acquitted of the three more serious offences of rape in the first degree and predatory sexual assault.
The conviction has been widely received as a victory for the #MeToo movement, but some question whether it is enough. Optimists say the trial will make it easier for victims of sexual assault to come forward and ensure that accusations are taken more seriously by law enforcement agencies. Others say there is a long way to go. The New York trials focussed on the cases of two women, Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann, but over ninety women have made accusations against the movie mogul. As Barbara Bradley Hagerty noted in The Atlantic, ‘the flood of victims becomes a trickle of convictions.’
Reactions to the verdict were widespread and largely positive, reflecting a general sense of relief. Ashley Judd, who accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, tweeted her appreciation: “For the women who testified in this case, and walked through traumatic hell, you did a public service to girls and women everywhere, thank you”. Rose McGowan added that “Today is a powerful day & a huge step forward in collective healing”. Rosanna Arquette urged people to “focus on the progress that has been made with the first guilty verdict for the #MeToo era”, but also encouraged a strengthening of laws “so that more rape cases will be prosecuted, and more rapists will be held accountable for their crimes”. Trump offered his own verdict on Weinstein, declaring him “Not a person that I liked. I will say, the people that liked him were the Democrats”.
But not everyone feels that the outcome is going to change the broader situation. As remarked on by the Economist, ‘Celebrity justice is not normal justice’, and this is no surprise. In such a high-profile case, the jury presumably knew of Weinstein and were aware of media coverage. For better or worse (arguably better), this does not apply to everyday court cases. As such, extrapolating from the Weinstein case that the justice system has changed for the better could be a stretch.
Molly Jong-Fast of The Daily Beast went further in suggesting that, in light of Weinstein not being convicted of the two more serious charges brought against him, ‘maybe we need to change the laws around rape and sexual assault to greater encompass the me-too landscape.’ It is of course possible to whole-heartedly support the #MeToo movement and simultaneously question such a statement. It is one thing to ensure that the system is effective, which may require the removal of impediments, and quite another to request a legal overhaul in the face of a movement which endeavours to remove stigma and encourage people to come forward. If legal change is necessary, a considered approach which looks beyond the Weinstein case might be needed.
The New York trial was complicated by the fact that, as is often the case, there were no ‘perfect victims.’ Indeed, Jessica Mann admitted to having had consensual sex and a four-year relationship with Weinstein after the initial assault. This may seem strange to an outside observer and was an aspect of the case focused on by defence attorney, Donna Rotunno. Although many people often assume that rape takes place between a victim and a stranger, this is rarely the case. In fact, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network points out that 80% of sexual violence is committed by somebody the victim knows.
Weinstein will face further charges in Los Angeles of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery by restraint. However, it is unclear whether he will go to trial in LA following the New York verdict as there could be a plea deal following Weinstein’s 11 March sentencing.
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