Weinstein: Is his conviction a turning point?
Harvey Weinstein’s many victims have “finally got their Hollywood ending,” said Maureen Callahan in NYPost.com. Two and a half years after published reports of sexual assault and harassment against the movie mogul launched the #MeToo movement, a New York jury this week convicted Weinstein, 67, of third-degree rape and criminal sexual assault. Weinstein was acquitted on the more serious charges of first-degree rape and “predatory sexual assault,” but he’ll spend at least five years in jail, and another rape trial is pending in Los Angeles. “It’s hard to overstate how consequential this is.” Weinstein’s humiliating trial and conviction puncture the absolute sense of impunity enjoyed by powerful predators, making it more likely women will report their abusers. Weinstein’s journey “from untouchable to incarcerated” is a symbolic turning point, said Moira Donegan in TheGuardian.com, signaling our society’s repudiation “of the abuse that women have endured for millennia.”
Despite the verdict, the case demonstrated “the extreme difficulty of prosecuting men for sexual assault,” said Barbara Bradley Hagerty in TheAtlantic.com. More than 90 women came forward with allegations against Weinstein, yet thanks to statutes of limitations and the inherent challenge of proving that a sexual encounter wasn’t consensual, only two of the cases made it to trial—those of actress Jessica Mann and producer Miriam Haley. There, as our system demands, Weinstein’s victims had to relive their intimate trauma in a public setting, while defense lawyers catalogued each woman’s “sexual history and personal flaws” and portrayed her as a liar happy to trade sex for career success. This trial was a painful reminder of why only 25 percent of rapes are ever even reported and only 0.05 percent of those who commit sexual violence are ever convicted.
The trial saw one “crucial breakthrough” that could change those statistics, said Jeffrey Abramson in the Los Angeles Times. Weinstein’s defense team showed that both women stayed friendly with him after their alleged assaults, and even had consensual sex with him. Historically, this kind of evidence has guaranteed acquittal. But the prosecution’s expert witnesses helped “jurors understand how rapists overwhelm their victims psychologically, as well as physically,” and that trying to “normalize” relations with one’s attacker is common behavior for traumatized women seeking to rebuild their lives after an assault. These are “nuances that feminists have tried to explain for decades,” said Alyssa Rosenberg in WashingtonPost.com. For a jury of Weinstein’s peers to grasp them points to a “significant cultural shift in the understanding of sexual violence.”
But when does that shift become an overcorrection? asked Eddie Scarry in WashingtonExaminer.com. Weinstein “got what was coming” to him. But the #MeToo movement has also “wreaked a lot of havoc.” In workplaces and on college campuses, we’ve created a climate where claims have become facts, and any woman feeling “simple regret” over a consensual encounter now has the cultural and legal tools to ruin a man’s reputation. Spare me, said Rebecca Solnit in The New York Times. Every day, women worldwide still live under a mortal threat of “gender violence.” The Weinstein verdict won’t change that, but you’ll forgive us for celebrating the news that “there are people willing to listen to women now, and sometimes what we say has consequences.” ■