NY jury’s Harvey Weinstein verdict indicates quantum of justice for MeToo cases and challenges in proving rape
Since Weinstein has been remorseless through this all, the final sentencing by the judge will give us an idea about the quantum of justice that will be meted out to the #MeToo survivors
As the most prominent of accused to see the inside of a courtroom, the guilty verdict of Harvey Weinstein is a moment the #MeToo movement has been waiting for. Weinstein is not only the most high profile case; he is also the most prolific. More than 100 women have come forward with allegations about him since the first New York Times article appeared about his predatory behavior -- alleging everything from aggressive outbursts to serious sexual assault.
Stars like Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, Lupita Nyong'o, and Angelina Jolie, among others, spoke up about how they faced uncomfortable situations and unwanted sexual advances. Other women, who did not have the clout that these stars had to escape his clutches or succumbed under pressure, described, often in graphic detail, alleged rapes by the Hollywood mogul, whose reputation as a star-maker and abusive predator went hand in hand.
The case against Weinstein in the Manhattan court revolved around the allegations of six women. However, the jury considered charges related to just two: ex-actress Jessica Mann and former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, since the other claims had passed the statute of limitations.
However, the other four women who took the stand also provided supporting testimonies to establish a pattern of sexually abusive behavior, like former 'The Sopranos' actress Annabella Sciorra, who testified that the film producer raped her at her home 25 years earlier, after having forced himself into her apartment and attacked her.
Miriam Haley alleged that the producer had forced oral sex on her at his apartment in Lower Manhattan, despite her protests. For this, Mr. Weinstein was charged with one count of criminal sexual act and predatory sexual assault. Jessica Mann testified that Mr. Weinstein injected his genitals with an erection medication and raped her in a hotel room in Midtown Manhattan. For this, he was charged with first- and third-degree rape, and predatory sexual assault.
Of these five charges, he was convicted only for criminal sexual assault in the first degree and rape in the third degree. He was acquitted on two counts of predatory sexual assault and one charge of first-degree rape, which could have landed him with the harshest sentence possible -- life imprisonment.
The Weinstein saga is far from over. The now-convicted producer is also facing four counts of sexual assault for forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of restraint and sexual battery by restraint in Los Angeles County.
However, the Manhattan court's judgment is a barometer about how #MeToo victims will be treated in court. Already there has been some debate about lifting the statute of limitations on rape cases since it is a well-documented fact that it is difficult for victims to speak up soon after the assault, often taking years to gather the courage to approach the authorities.
The judgment also shows that jurors will be less inclined to indict in any #MeToo case if it involves harsh penalties like life imprisonment. In essence, even though Weinstein is now a convicted rapist, his "crime" has been categorized as "third-degree rape", the mildest of the "three degrees of rape", indicting him only for "nonconsensual sex". Rape in the first degree, which means rape with forcible compulsion where the victim is incapable of consent by reason of "being physically helpless", is more difficult to prove.
Despite Sciorra's supporting testimony along with the two main accusers, the jury also chose not to indict him for predatory sexual assault, which required the defense to show three cases of predatory assault.
Going forward, this means that prosecution cases will have the most success if it goes to court with more victim testimonies to show a pattern of predatory behavior. The case also shows how difficult it is to prove rape in the first degree with just the victim's testimony.
In what became a "he says, she says" defense, Donna Rotunno, Weinstein's top lawyer, tried to portray the women who took the stand as manipulating Weinstein and scheming to further their careers. In short, she tried her best to frame the encounters as "consensual".
While the jury did not buy this defense entirely, they hesitated from convicting Weinstein for first-degree rape since the victims' testimonies were complicated by their continued contact with Weinstein. Mann had told the court that she had entered into a "degrading relationship" with Weinstein, which included consensual sex acts, after her rape.
Rotunno called the verdict “bittersweet” since Weinstein was acquitted of the two counts of predatory sexual assault. He now faces between five to 25 years in New York state prison for the charges he has been convicted for.
Since Weinstein has been remorseless through this all and has consistently denied all allegations of non-consensual sex while seeking "therapy" for sex addiction, the final sentencing by the judge will give us an idea about the quantum of justice that will be meted out to the #MeToo survivors. It will tell us what other survivors can expect after reliving their traumas to secure a conviction in court.