The Irish Times view on Harvey Weinstein’s conviction: a landmark of the #MeToo era
The verdict should send a strong message to victims: that they will be listened to, and believed
The conviction of the film producer Harvey Weinstein is a landmark moment that shows how much has changed for the better in the #MeToo era that his behaviour helped to instigate. Weinstein, for decades one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, was acquitted of predatory sexual assault but found guilty of a sex crime and rape in the third degree. He will be sentenced next month to at least five years in prison. It’s an important victory for Manhattan prosecutors and for the media organisations, principally the New Yorker and the New York Times, who defied threats from Weinstein and his protectors to publish the testimony of women with the courage to bring into the public domain what was for too long an open secret in the US entertainment industry.
Above all, however, it is a victory for the women themselves. Jessica Mann, an aspiring actor, and Miriam Haley, a production assistant, along with other witnesses who testified for the prosecution, endured aggressive and intrusive cross-examination and seven weeks in the public spotlight in order to make this possible. More than 90 women have said Weinstein harassed or assaulted them, but many of those cases could not be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations or because the alleged incidents occurred outside the New York jurisdiction. (Weinstein still faces separate charges of rape and sexual assault in Los Angeles). Many legal analysts, resigned to the familiar barriers in cases such as these, had believed a conviction was a long-shot. There was no physical evidence, and the central victims acknowledged having had consensual sex with the mogul after being attacked by him.
Weinstein was untouchable, utterly confident in his ability to deploy a vast arsenal of lawyers, spies and influential friends
Weinstein’s lawyers seized on this, presenting their client as a victim of women who “wanted to use his power”, as defence lawyer Donna Rotunno put it, and of a #MeToo movement that had gone too far. Rotunno was right about one thing: this was indeed about power, but it was the vast power that Weinstein used to act with impunity for so long and that left his victims frozen with fear, unable to speak out for fear of the consequences. Thankfully, however, the cultural shifts that came with the #MeToo era have led to a keen awareness of the realities of sexual violence: the complex dynamics that can exist between abuser and victim, the absence of neat scripts, the reasons why women stay silent.
The jury’s decision will reverberate far beyond New York. In his world, Weinstein was untouchable, utterly confident in his ability to deploy a vast arsenal of lawyers, spies and influential friends to silence and discredit women who threatened to tell the truth about him. His conviction should act as a warning to men like him that the days of such impunity are over. And it will hopefully send an even stronger message to other victims: that they will be listened to, and believed.