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Kathy Sheridan: The trial of Harvey Weinstein is far from over

Kathy Sheridan: The fight now moves on to Los Angeles

Lawyers and accusers react as disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is convicted of third-degree rape and committing a first-degree criminal sexual act. Video: Anadolu Agency/Reuters

Braced for a loss, few had dared to hope that a day that began with Harvey Weinstein breakfasting in The Four Seasons would end with his wrists in handcuffs and the label “rapist” forever attached to his name. As court officers escorted him off to custody, he left behind the walking frame on which he had conspicuously leaned for much of the trial. A telling detail about the man.

It was a cautious jury that took five days to convict him on two counts and to acquit him on three, including the most serious charges including one of predatory sexual assault.

It was not the full-throated “I believe you before you open your mouth” verdict for which many hoped. For example, the distinction between first and third degree rape (of which Weinstein was convicted) will seem fairly academic to many women.

Women trying to summon up courage for their battles can see what lies in wait, regardless of this week's verdict

This case represented a mountain of tropes. The casting couch versus the scheming little woman sleeping her way to the top. The brutal sex predator as described by a hundred women versus the defence’s portrayal of their hapless client with his walking frame as the true victim. The notion of ordinary, decent women being denied agency and autonomy by man-hating harridans as portrayed by lead defence attorney Donna Rotunno.


Up to last Monday, the most battle-hardened lawyers would have offered no odds on a jury finding in favour of two women who alleged rape but had subsequently referred to the alleged rapist as a “pseudo father”, or carried on a tumultuous relationship with him for years, or asked him for help getting a membership to the Soho House social club.

Her word against his

No-one denies that these were two particularly challenging, complex witnesses. Since there was no forensic evidence or corroboration, it was a classic case of her word against his. Witnesses were almost crushed by Rotunno’s devastating cross examinations. So far, so normal.

But something had changed. The difference now was that firstly, the prosecution had taken on a case that was far from a sure thing. Would that have happened without the steaming rage of the #MeToo juggernaut, the time and money pumped into investigations by the New York Times and the New Yorker, the heroism of the women who knew more than anyone what they were taking on in the power, wealth, publicists, spies, abuse and manipulation of Weinstein?

Secondly, the prosecution refused to buckle. They brought in forensic psychiatrist, Barbara Ziv, to describe to jurors how sexual assault victims’ responses are often counter-intuitive and – though we assume that everyone already knows this – that rape usually happens with someone you know.

Harvey Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress. Photograph: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

Vital too was the judge’s decision to allow several more witnesses – along with the two at the centre of the case – to establish a pattern about Weinstein’s predatory behaviour.

All this led to Monday’s historic shift. It lay in the recognition by a jury that consensual sex is an extremely messy, complicated concept. And that sexual assault and harassment are ultimately about power.

Back in court, women trying to summon up courage for their battles can see what lies in wait, regardless of this week's verdict

But while this case may have shifted attitudes for a while, it has changed no law. In hard days to come it will be recalled that it took a global movement, some 100 women and several decades to persuade the authorities to bear down on Weinstein, a hulking 300-pound man of immense power and wealth who had no understanding of the word “No”.

“He would have just seen ‘no’ as an obstacle to remove”, his former assistant, Zelda Perkins, told the BBC. Perkins only felt able to break a scandalously unethical Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with Weinstein because she felt covered by the force and power of the #MeToo movement.

Summon up courage

Back in court, women trying to summon up courage for their battles can see what lies in wait, regardless of this week’s verdict. The decision to appoint a woman as lead defence lawyer, a self-identified “ultimate feminist”, one who has built a career defending men in sexual assault cases, is almost predictable at this stage. “We are not here to criminalise morality”, said Rotunno at one point, as if a sustained pattern of sexual assault was merely a moral failing.

During the case, she had no compunction about making inflammatory statements to the media. She had never been sexually assaulted because she declared, “I would never put myself in any vulnerable circumstance”.

Which means presumably that she has been lucky in all her intimate relationships and never worked or walked or took a drink alone. Lucky her to be so secure in her sheltered existence.

True to form, when asked how Weinstein reacted to the verdict, she claimed “he took it like a man” – which translates as bleating insistently that he was innocent and asking “how could this happen in America?”, we must assume.

The fight moves on to Los Angeles after his sentencing hearing next month. He will get a minimum of five years in Manhattan. The evidence in California is said to be more expansive and the sentencing potentially more serious there.

The trial of Harvey Weinstein is far from over.