On Monday, February 24th, former film mogul Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of the first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape in New York. This conviction comes nearly three years after the first accusations were reported. They were soon followed by an avalanche of women coming forward with similar stories – among them celebrities like Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie.
While Weinstein being convicted of at least some of the charges held against him came as a relief to many women, is it enough to make up for the damage caused? Weinstein’s actions have ruined careers and deeply impacted the lives of women affected. Jessica Mann, one of the accusers central to Weinstein’s case, suffered an emotional breakdown while on the witness stand. As she was unable to calm down, the court to be adjourned that day. Mann left the courtroom visually hyperventilating and could be heard screaming from a backroom shortly after.
Weinstein was acquitted of the more serious charges, two counts of predatory sexual assault. The number and severity of accusations against Weinstein make it difficult to believe that he is innocent of any offenses. But he benefits from a justice system that is set up completely in his favor, as a powerful, rich, white man.
Therefore, Harvey Weinstein’s conviction can be seen as a first step in holding sex offenders accountable. The trial was unusual not just because of its media coverage and global attention. The two main accusers were both women who continued to have intimate contact with Weinstein after they were assaulted. Historically, such cases have often been viewed as too ‘messy’ to secure a verdict. Weinstein’s defense, led by Donna Rotunno, viciously interrogated the women about these relations, aiming to prove the accusers’ consent to what took place. Thanks to the growing public awareness of the after-effects of sexual assault, this defense strategy did not work out. It is now widely accepted that keeping in touch with the abuser is a common reaction among victims and not a negation of what happened to them.
On an appearance on “The View” shortly after the trial, Mimi Haley, the second of the main accusers says: “I thank all the women who came forward before me, that actually created this environment where I felt safe to speak out and supported to speak out.” Her words give hope that, while Weinstein got away with more than he maybe should have, it is not only his conviction that speaks of a cultural shift. The #MeToo movement has paved the way for women to feel entitled to their own bodies and strong enough to stand up to men who are not only more powerful than them but also hold their entire career in their hands. It has shown the world the frequency and normality of sexual assault, which has led to change that is slow but noticeable and that will continue under the rigorous labor of women, who are fighting for a safer world for the coming generations.
Harvey Weinstein will await his sentencing on March 11th in prison. He faces further rape charges in Los Angeles, where he will be transported to immediately after.