Former Hollywood and entertainment industry mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial is entering its second week. The founder of Miramax, who has produced such blockbuster films as “A Thin Blue Line,” “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” and “Pulp Fiction,” is facing five sex crime charges that could result in imprisonment for the remainder of his life if found guilty. Weinstein appeared at the courthouse in December using a walker. Many believe that his use of the apparatus was an attempt by his defense team to garner sympathy from the court and potential jurors.
The Weinstein case has been categorized by some as one of the most significant #MeToo cases in history. This is because of the severity of the allegations against him and the fact that those allegations came early on in the movement and attracted much attention. It’s also true that many of the allegations are fairly recent and involved some of Hollywood’s best-known female stars. Conversely, many of the allegations in several similar cases are often decades old and/or occurred far outside of the statutes of limitations.
“If women with that influence and power could be victimized, anyone can,” stated Nora V. Demleitner, a Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.
“Also, the types of accusations against Weinstein were so egregious that, as alleged, they easily met the standard of serious crimes. For all these reasons and the fact that we are now witnessing a criminal trial that keeps the case in the news, it is more important than the others,” Demleitner stated.
“Should Matt Lauer be tried, that may change the calculus as he is an even better-known figure than Weinstein in the public’s eye,” she added.
At least 100 women, including several A-list actresses, have alleged that Weinstein used the casting couch to sexually harass and assault them.
Former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Emily D. Baker said, even with all of the evidence against Weinstein, a conviction is no slam dunk. “When it comes to sexual assault cases, juries can be funny,” stated Baker, currently a private citizen whose practice represents online business owners and entrepreneurs.
“Prosecutors still have to overcome victim-blaming and shamming mindsets that are so prevalent. While the defense may argue that Weinstein won’t get a fair trial because of the notoriety of the case and the allegations, the victims of sexual assault have to overcome our culture’s everyday biases against the women,” Baker stated.
In spite of the number of accusers, or perhaps because of them, Jonathan Farley, a Visiting Professor of Mathematics at the California Institute of Technology, who has a reputation for arguing unpopular viewpoints, believes Weinstein shouldn’t even be on trial.
“None of these women have proof, and common sense tells us that they were more than willing participants, in order to get roles,” Farley stated. “[One woman] says Weinstein raped her twice. How does that work again?”
Furthermore, Farley added that Weinstein’s lawyers should bring as witnesses “the hundreds of men the accusers have been carnal with to refute the idea that they were these innocent virgins before being despoiled by Weinstein.”
“Why are men second-class citizens? Why can any woman destroy a man’s life without a shred of evidence?” Farley stated.
The case of the People of New York against Harvey Weinstein occurs as the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that they have also filed four felony counts of sexual assault against Weinstein.
Those charges stem from alleged attacks on two different women over two days in California in 2013.
Sophie Sandberg, the founder of the Instagram channel, “Catcalls of NYC,” said celebrity men all had become symbols in the #MeToo movement, and that can have a negative impact in many ways.
“First, it can result in the false impression that we can get rid of all the men who are abusers and fix the problem. Rather, the #MeToo movement should be about changing systemic inequality that results in widespread gender-based sexual harassment on the streets, in workplaces and schools,” Sandberg stated.
“Second, as a result of these celebrities being fired and put on trial, many men feel that they are being targeted and victimized by the #MeToo movement. This can result in retaliation and backlash,” she stated.
It can be argued that somewhere along the way, justice for victims of sexual assault seems to have taken a back seat to the desire for validation by parties from either side of the #MeToo movement divide. After all, if accused defendants, like Weinstein, are found guilty of their actions in a court of law, is their crime less heinous because it was executed on a casting couch instead of at the end of a weapon?
Nicole Porter, a professor of law at The University of Toledo College of Law, stated that Weinstein caused the current iteration of the #MeToo movement, but the action is about so much more than Harvey Weinstein or his criminal case.
“In my opinion, the #MeToo movement has had its biggest impact in two ways,” Porter stated. “Getting the public to understand how big of a problem sexual harassment and assault is and getting employers to take sexual harassment in the workplace more seriously,” Porter added.
“I don’t think the outcome of this trial will affect the #MeToo movement. If he gets convicted, I imagine the majority of the public will be happy about that, although there will be a sizable and likely very vocal minority who might feel like he should have been acquitted,” Porter noted.
“If he does not get convicted, I don’t think that will hurt the #MeToo movement very much. The movement is not about him anymore. Whether or not the State of New York chose to prosecute Harvey Weinstein has nothing to do with what has happened with Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer.”