“Justice at last, and a victory over the old order”
Harvey Weinstein is a rapist. We can say that now, without fear, because he has been tried by a jury of his peers and found guilty of that crime. He was also found guilty, after five days of deliberation over the evidence offered during his trial at the New York supreme court, of a criminal sex act in the first degree. He faces up to 25 years in prison, thanks in particular to the testimony of six women of the many who had suffered alleged attacks by the Hollywood mogul during several decades of predatory behaviour.
It’s not what we thought would happen. History has taught us that a powerful man accused of abusing his authority and committing sexual crimes will likely – with the help of extremely expensive lawyers – discredit his accusers, shrug off all charges and walk away from the scenes of his crimes without repercussions. This time, though, there was no argument strong enough, no doubt deep enough to save Weinstein from justice.
What is particularly significant about Weinstein’s conviction is that the two main witnesses had both had consensual sex with the producer before he attacked them and one had gone on to have an intimate relationship with him for several years after that. This has never been a look lawyers are fond of, and it gave Weinstein’s side further ammunition for their arguments, most of which depended on painting him as a hapless victim of a feminism that had gone ‘too far’.
But an expert witness testified that abused or assaulted women frequently go on to maintain some kind of relationship with their assailant (either through fear or a complicated process of attempted normalisation in order to try and minimise the harm done by his actions). And the jury listened. And knew it was true.
Of course the result isn’t perfect. Weinstein was acquitted on three other serious counts and will be appealing against his current convictions. But let’s be clear that this is nevertheless a monumental and groundbreaking victory. It has broken the personal stranglehold he had over all the people in his vicinity and it gives untold support to cases to be brought by other survivors of sexual harassment, assault and rape everywhere. It is concrete recognition that times are changing, that the old ways cannot and will not survive.
It is that rarest of red flags – one that signals to the powerful and privileged that they, for once, are the ones in danger. All the people you would want to be resting uneasily in their beds are now up and pacing during the night. If one of the richest, most influential, aggressive and feared men in an aggressive and feared industry no longer has impunity, none of them do. And so the old order crumbles.
In many ways, it is a verdict on the #MeToo movement itself. And who built that movement? Women did. All those who spoke out about their own terrible experiences, all those who supported them in doing so, all those who created a climate in which high-profile survivors felt able to come out, be heard and lend further weight to the case against Weinstein. They helped shift cultural perspective and deepen understanding so that a jury could come in with minds more open and knowledgeable about what happens to us and how and why, and deliver justice in one of its rarest forms. Onward.