This guilty verdict vindicates the women who spoke out. But we must go a long way before we can be sure this won't happen againby Sian Norris / February 24, 2020 / Leave a comment
“Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex.” That disclaimer has been added to all the pieces every journalist has written about the former movie producer since October 2017—when Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in the New York Times, and Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, revealed dozens of women had accused Weinstein of sexual assault, harassment, and rape.
Not anymore. Now we can write it in big, bold letters: Harvey Weinstein is guilty.
The director was found guilty of third-degree rape and a criminal sexual act in the first degree. He was found not guilty on three other counts—but it is likely he will still go to jail. It’s now hoped that other women will come forward to press further charges.
For so many of us, the verdict was met with a sigh of relief. This feels like the first major legal victory for #MeToo—the movement of women speaking up and speaking out about a lifetime of harassment, sexual assault and rape that has been covered up, condescended and ignored. Finally, women are seeing some form of justice done.
Women who had alleged sexual violence against Weinstein, including in incidents dating back decades, had seen their careers trampled upon and their dreams fade to dust. He is said to have told women “I’m Harvey Weinstein—you know what I can do.” And do it he did. No one felt able to speak up, until one day women started… and they didn’t stop.
Make no mistake: #MeToo was a galvanising moment. It was a time when women and girls from across the world started saying what had been done to them, and exposing the power structures that prevented us from saying it before.
But at the same time, it often felt like women were being forced to produce their most painful memories and experiences, to prove again and again the reality of patriarchal violence, only for nothing to happen. In the UK we saw one minister resign as Secretary of State for “falling short” of the standards expected of his post, but remaining in his seat. We saw male journalists get a telling off for behaviour they themselves say women are “entitled to consider completely unacceptable,” before being given a platform to recount how hard it all was for them. Meanwhile, women who made allegations were subjected to public shaming by the tabloid press.
Weinstein’s guilt was never guaranteed. And it was easy for women observing around the world to lose hope. Not least because, as time wore on, the conversation around allegations in politics remained toxic and complaints badly handled. The British Prime Minister was accused of “wandering hands” by a former colleague—something he denies in the strongest possible terms, but of which his supporters told us “people complained if Boris didn’t put his hand on their knee during lunch.” A year before, a House of Lords report on sexual harassment condemned the handling of allegations against Lib Dem peer Lord Lester, saying the process “will have deterred other victims of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct from coming forward.” (Lester, too, has consistently and strongly denied the allegations.)
What had happened to the anger and the energy that said we wouldn’t see failings and shrugged shoulders again?
It felt like women had bared our pain only to be ignored. We had demanded better, we had spoken up, we had said we’d had enough. Demands were made for independent bodies and new HR standards. And, once again, everyone stopped listening. They reached for the old blame game, the old excuses. Our pain wasn’t enough. Our stories weren’t enough. Powerful men closed ranks and women accusers were left in the cold.
That changed with this verdict. Finally, we got to see what justice could look like for the women who bravely speak out about powerful abusers. The myths told about rape victims, such as how you couldn’t be a victim if you continued to have a relationship with the abuser, or that women “put themselves in vulnerable situations” and are therefore to blame—these were exposed for the lies they were. The courage, the energy and the honesty of women carrying the weight of these violations over four decades have been rewarded.
Yet while Weinstein is facing prison time for two counts, we need to remember that dozens and dozens of women had to come forward to accuse him before anything changed. It was only when dozens and dozens of women came forward that the wheels of justice started moving. How can it be, after Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile and John Worboys that we only start listening to women when tens, even hundreds, of us start talking? How many women have to be hurt, have to be ignored, have to endure violence and threats and silencing, before we listen the first time?
And while the women who accused Weinstein will surely be feeling relief tonight, perhaps they are also angry that the assaults allegedly committed against them never got to be heard in court. I am.
We can breathe a sigh of relief this evening that Weinstein was found guilty. But this is not a time for celebration. Let’s be glad that Weinstein’s reign of sexual violence, threats and intimidation is at an end. And let’s make sure such a reign of terror that went on for so long, and so nearly went unrecognised, can never be allowed to happen again.