[Content warning: sexual assault]
On March 12th Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of rape in New York and sentenced to 23 years in prison in Rikers Island. The exposure of his actions led to the creation of the
#MeToo movement, bringing to light the culture of sexual harassment and abuse within
Hollywood and empowered women across the globe to share their experiences.
The jury found him guilty of first degree sexual assault of Miriam Haley in 2006 and third degree rape of Jessica Mann in 2013. He was acquitted of two of the most serious charges of predatory sexual assault, which would have carried a harsher sentence. Many were worried that the mostly male panel would acquit Weinstein of all charges, and most would not have predicted this result, meaning that it is a huge step in the right direction in ensuring that rape and other crimes of a sexual and violent nature are punished as severely as they should be.
This is a big win for the #MeToo movement as well as all women, as it shows that there is
hope in bringing sexual harassers to justice. It suggests that the justice system is finally
taking rape more seriously as a crime and starting to disregard methods by defence
attorneys to discredit the victim such as asking what the victim was wearing or how much they had to drink, a method that was employed by Weinstein’s lawyers. Considering America’s justice system relies on precedent in order to set punishments, it means that those found guilty of sexual harassment or rape will be dealt with more harshly in future trials. However, since Weinstein was acquitted of two of the most serious charges, we still have a long way to go to change attitudes in relation to sex crime.
23 years is a long time; most university students will not have been alive for that long.
Weinstein, at 68 years old, could potentially die behind bars. He is being held in Rikers
Island, but shortly before his sentencing he was admitted to Bellevue which is a medical
facility in which he would have private amenities. His lawyers will be working to repeal his sentence or have it reduced, and he could potentially get out early for good behaviour. Weinstein still has a lot of legal options to stop him from having to serve the full extent of his sentence, and so celebrating and calling this a complete win may be premature.
Whilst rape, sexual harassment and assault are all illegal, more can and needs to be done in order to prosecute these crimes and to treat victims better so that more are likely to get justice. In America, states have the ability to enact different laws in regards to punishment and sentencing which means punishment for sexual crimes can be less severe in various states. Weinstein couldn’t be prosecuted for crimes that were committed earlier in his life, and so statutes of limitations should be extended to allow victims to come forward even if it has been a long time has passed. This is mainly because often immediately after an attack, victims may be scared or nervous about coming forward, and this would allow them to seek the justice that they deserve when they are ready.
Non-disclosure agreements or NDAs have recently come under attack, and rightly so. These protect employers or people in position of power who have committed some form of sexual harassment or assault, and stop victims – usually women – from being able to prosecute their attackers. There are thousands of women currently being held under such agreements, who can’t seek help because they are afraid of retribution – usually a financial penalty that they would incur if they break their NDA. Whilst NDAs shouldn’t be completely made illegal (as they serve other purposes), an NDA should not be used in order to hide a crime.
Using an NDA for such a purpose is an abuse of the document that is meant to prevent the disclosure of business practices, not crimes. You would never sign an NDA to cover up a murder, and so it makes no sense to use it for something that is just as serious a crime. Harvey Weinstein’s case shows how far the justice system has come in terms of prosecuting and punishing sexual crimes, but also shows how much more needs to be done. There is still a culture of victim blaming; Weinstein’s lawyers have legal recourses to reduce his sentence; and there are other issues in the world such as NDAs that stop many women from being able to receive the justice that they deserve. Weinstein’s sentence is an important step to bringing sexual assaulters, harassers and rapists to justice, as well as raising awareness so that people do not forget that this is still a problem in the world today.
As of now Harvey Weinstein has tested positive for covid-19 and is receiving treatment in Wendy Correctional Facility. The Trump administration is also timely considering releasing elderly and non-violent prisoners.
[Katerina Schwartz – she/her]
[Photo credit: Franziska Barczyk]