Gender

Harvey Weinstein, the trial that found him guilty of sexual assault and rape explained

The New York Supreme Court has found former film producer Harvey Weinstein guilty of rape and sexual assault. Even though he was acquitted of other charges, the verdict could be a turning point for women’s rights.

“With his manipulation, his resources, his attorneys, his publicists and his spies (he) did everything he could to silence the survivors. But they wouldn’t be silenced, spoke from their hearts, and were heard”. Former US film producer Harvey Weinstein, who for years has been at the centre of a sexual assault scandal involving dozens of women, was found guilty of a criminal sex act in the first degree and rape in the third degree by the New York Supreme Court on Monday, the 24th of February.

The trial, which lasted several weeks, ended with the jury – composed of seven men and five women – spending days deliberating before reaching a verdict. The Hollywood magnate was found guilty of two of the five charges he faced: a criminal sex act and rape against Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann respectively, involved in the trial as part of the prosecution. There were also 27 other women who contributed as witnesses.

harvey weinstein, guilty, rape
Former film producer Harvey Weinstein has for years been at the centre of a scandal, with dozens of women accusing him of sexual harassment and assault © Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Harvey Weinstein’s crimes

  • Criminal act in the first degree against Miriam Haley

Miriam Haley (formerly Haleyi) was a production assistant on the TV show Project Runway when, on the 10th of July 2006, Weinstein lured her to his New York apartment in Soho on the pretext of a business meeting. Once inside, he lunged at her, pushed her into the bedroom and forced himself, performing oral sex on her.

I rejected him, but he insisted. Every time I tried to get off the bed, he would push me back and hold me down. He pushed me down, he held me down by my arms. He forced himself on me orally. I was in such shock that I just checked out.Miriam Haley

A criminal sex act in the first degree, the most serious charge for which Weinstein was found guilty, is when a person has oral or anal sex with a non-consenting person, or when force or threats have been used to commit the crime. Punishment can range from between 5 and 25 years in prison.

  • Rape in the third degree against Jessica Mann

In 2013, Jessica Mann was an aspiring actress who had a “real but humiliating and oppressive” relationship with Weinstein. After Mann tried to end the relationship in the lobby of a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, Weinstein dragged her into a room and forced her to undress, and then raped her.

In the room, I started arguing with him. He was like a drill sergeant: sharp, angry. He comes toward me and starts trying to force me to undress. I was panicked, because my worst nightmare was about to happen. I was very angry inside and very scared. I gave up.Jessica Mann

Third-degree rape involves non-consensual sex with another person. The New York criminal code has three degrees, third being the least serious. It’s punished with a maximum of four years of probation.

After the verdict, Weinstein was handcuffed and remanded into custody, where he will remain until sentencing on the 11th of March.

Harvey Weinstein found guilty
Former film producer Harvey Weinstein at New York’s Supreme Court, 24 February 2020 © Scott Heins/Getty Images

The acquittals

Weinstein was acquitted of first-degree rape, which involves the use of force in a non-consensual sexual act. The disgraced producer was also found not guilty on two counts of predatory sexual assault. These were the most serious accusations, and Weinstein would’ve risked life in prison had he been found guilty. A person is convicted of predatory sexual assault if the jury finds that they committed first-degree rape, sexual violence or aggravated sexual abuse on more than one other person.

How we got here

The victims testifying at the trial weren’t the only ones to come forward. Almost 100 women in the cinema and entertainment industries – including stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman – have claimed to have been victims of sexual harassment by Weinstein. The accusations, furthermore, span a long period of time in Weinstein’s career, going as far back as the 1980s. A 2017 exposé by the New York Times uncovered many cases of Weinstein’s abuse.

Read more: #MeToo campaign’s silence breakers, who spoke out against sexual violence, are Time Person of the Year 2017

From that moment onwards, more and more victims started to tell their stories, encouraging other women to come forward and revealing the extent of the abuse. One after the other, they began to speak out. Pandora’s box had been opened. The birth of the #MeToo movement gave them strength, ultimately leading to New York state bringing charges against Weinstein in the hope of getting compensation for the victims and making the mogul pay for his crimes.

#metoo
The Weinstein case led to a series of accusations against other people in the world of entertainment. #MeToo was thus born, giving women the courage to break the silence around sexual abuse © David McNew/Getty Images

The verdict’s aftermath

Since the beginning, Weinstein has proclaimed his innocence, denying having had non-consensual sexual relations. In support of this statement, he and his lawyers used the fact that some of the women maintained relationships with him after the fact. This scenario, however, is common in cases related to crimes of a sexual nature, a fact confirmed before the jury by psychiatrist Barbara Ziv: “It’s normal to have contact with the attacker”.

I know the history of my relationship with him. I know it was complicated and difficult. That doesn’t change the fact that he raped me.Jessica Mann

This is precisely the point on which the prosecution led by Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Meghan Hast focused a lot of attention. The aim was to create a precedent in which this type of relationship between attacker and victim is acknowledged. Furthermore, the prosecution was impeccable in tracing the defendant’s guilt: thanks to dozens of witnesses and their stories, an image of Weinstein as a cold and calculating sexual predator emerged. He would choose his victims by identifying their neediness or their weakness, grooming them and abusing them with the same methodical approach employed throughout the years.

The women’s courage

Even though he was acquitted of three of the five charges, the verdict was an important testing ground for the movement in favour of women’s rights sparked by the case. It’s a turning point because it may be the first, long overdue confirmation that men, regardless of their social position, can indeed be held accountable for abuse, attacks and sexual violence inside and outside the workplace. And they can be sentenced. This rewards the courage and strength of the women who fought and came forward, with a hand outstretched to those who still haven’t.

No matter how powerful a person is, no matter how much mud or dirt may be flung at those who have the courage to come forward, we are in a new time. The #MeToo era has thankfully started to unmask these systems of abuse of power, and now women can be heard and believed.Michelle Simpson Tuegel, lawyer

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