by Marla Hiller
photo by Richard Royle
Last week in New York City, Harvey Weinstein’s trial began. I’m sure you remember the New York Times story that broke in 2017 detailing allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and rape against Weinstein from over, eventually, 80 women. And I’m sure you remember the subsequent movement that resulted from the report: the #MeToo movement. Now, in 2020, we’re finally seeing a real possibility of Weinstein facing a lifetime in prison. But here’s some context in case you forgot some of the details.
The more than 80 women who eventually came forward with their stories of rape, forced oral sex, and other non-consensual sexual interactions with Weinstein triggered the start of the #MeToo movement. Since then, women from varying industries, positions, and locations have told their own stories of sexual misconduct in the workplace and beyond. The sheer number of allegations that have surfaced during this movement has rocked the world and resulted in many high-powered men’s removal from their positions. However, unsurprisingly, some people (by “people” I mean many men) believe the movement is harmful and puts men in a delicate position: having to identify what is and isn’t sexual harassment. To most women, including myself, this response is ridiculous and deeply undermines the severity of the trauma so many women endure. It also allows men to argue that they are the real victims and that some of the allegations are “overreactions” to otherwise innocuous acts.
The trial is a complicated one. The prosecution’s charges rest primarily on two women: Mimi Haley, who accused Weinstein of forcing oral sex on her, and Jessica Mann, who accused Weinstein of rape. The other women who have spoken out about their own interactions with Weinstein either preferred not to go to trial at the fear of their own personal and career lives or the incident fell outside New York’s statute of limitations. So, the jury will only be hearing a fairly narrow legal case despite other women still agreeing to testify as evidence of Weinstein’s behavior. Weinstein’s defense team’s argument lies heavily on emails between Weinstein and some of the victims after the alleged sexual misconduct. The emails are friendly, therefore the defense argues these emails are proof the prior interactions were consensual. This argument is flawed on a fundamental level. A large component of the relationships between Weinstein and his victims is the power dynamic. Weinstein could do whatever he wanted assuming his victims would never speak out due to his influence in the industry. Similarly, even after being assaulted, raped, etc, these women needed to maintain a relationship with Weinstein to maintain their own livelihoods. To conclude that remaining in contact with Weinstein means that the acts were consensual is a shaky argument and displaces a misunderstanding of the situation entirely.
This trial will serve as an important precedent, either good or bad. If he isn’t found guilty, that will be a major step back in what the #MeToo movement strives for. We can only hope that Weinstein will be found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, leading to more rapists being held accountable, especially ones in positions of power.