Harvey Weinstein’s verdict is in, and the first high-profile Me Too trial is over.
In October 2017, the New York Times and the New Yorker published their landmark articles accusing the Hollywood producer of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, launching the Me Too movement into overdrive. And on Monday, a jury found Weinstein guilty of rape in the third degree and a criminal sexual act in the first degree. He was found not guilty of first-degree rape and two charges of predatory sexual assault, the more serious of the five charges he faced.
And with this verdict, Harvey Weinstein has become the first of the high-profile men accused of sexual misconduct since October 2017 to face genuine legal consequences for his actions.
Other high-profile men have been convicted of sex crimes since 2017, like Bill Cosby and Larry Nassar. But both Cosby and Nassar were charged with their crimes well before the Me Too movement went viral. Weinstein is the first of the high-profile men who was accused, investigated, charged, and tried all within the world created by the Me Too movement — a movement that reached its most visible phase because of Weinstein’s case.
This fact is worth remembering and repeating. Since the Me Too movement was galvanized in October 2017, and women began to work to overcome the enormous stigma of speaking up about sexual violence, the movement has faced a profound backlash. Critic after critic has declared Me Too dangerous and called for it to come to an end. Yet for all the hand-wringing about whether Me Too has gone too far, for all the discussion about how men are facing witch hunts and lynch mobs and innocent people’s lives are being ruined, for all that: 35 months after the Me Too movement went viral, Harvey Weinstein is still the first high-profile man to be legally punished for his actions as a result of that movement.
And he wasn’t even found guilty on all charges.
In the fall of 2017, more and more women across the country said, “Me too,” and it felt like the world was changing
The first articles about Harvey Weinstein dropped in October 2017, and they were followed rapidly by more articles about more men. Suddenly, it became impossible for a single week, or even day, to go by without another story breaking in which another powerful man was accused of sexual misconduct. It was as though someone had jostled a line of dominoes, and now we were watching them all topple in real time.
The accusations against Weinstein broke on October 5. Accusations against a litany of other famous men followed: Nelly on October 7. Kevin Spacey on October 29. Ed Westwick on November 7, Louis C.K. on November 9, Charlie Rose on November 20, Mario Batali on December 11. By the end of 2018, there would be 262 in total.
Person after person was saying, “Me too,” and it seemed as though the world was actually, for once, listening. It seemed as though these accusations might really matter, that they might matter in the way that accusations against powerful men who have hurt women often don’t.
Historically, we as a culture don’t do much to the rich and famous and powerful men of the world when women say that those men have hurt them. We give them Oscars and a seat on the Supreme Court and in the White House, and we call their accusers liars or hysterical or unreliable. We treat the men and their power as sacrosanct and the women and their pain as disposable.
But after the Weinstein accusations in October 2017, the world reacted with outraged, fascinated shock, and it began to feel as though something might finally be changing.
The institutions that were the seat of these men’s power began to treat them as liabilities rather than assets. Weinstein lost his company. Kevin Spacey was kicked off House of Cards. The wide release of Louis C.K.’s movie was canceled, and he lost his TV show.
None of it was the same as a punishment, per se — these men were all still rich and still had the freedom to enjoy their enormous wealth — but it felt as though people were at least beginning to take accusations of sexual misconduct seriously. It felt as though we were beginning to think about women’s pain as being as worthy of consideration as men’s power.
Within three months of the Weinstein accusations, the Me Too backlash arrived
But by the time 2018 rolled around, the backlash had already begun. Me Too, people began murmuring, had already gone too far. After all: Men were losing their jobs.
“In our current climate, to be accused is to be convicted,” wrote Daphne Merkin darkly at the New York Times on January 5, citing the fact that Garrison Keillor, Jonathan Schwartz, Ryan Lizza, and Sen. Al Franken had all lost their jobs after being accused of harassment and investigated by their employers. (Franken was not investigated, but he voluntarily resigned after eight women accused him of harassment.) “Due process is nowhere to be found,” Merkin concluded.
“People have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives,” tweeted Michael Che in August 2018, after Louis C.K. made a surprise performance at New York City’s Comedy Cellar less than a year after he admitted to sexually harassing women.
“There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day,” Norm Macdonald said of C.K. and Roseanne Barr in September 2018. (Barr lost her job over a series of racist tweets.) “Of course, people will go, ‘What about the victims?’” Macdonald continued. “But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that.”
Harvey Weinstein, the Me Too backlashers almost universally allowed, was surely a monster. He was the genuine article, the kind of target that it was legitimate for the Me Too movement to go after — one of “the truly heinous sorts,” as Merkin put it. But they suggested that the other men who had been targeted were being treated unfairly.
Weinstein became a sacrificial lamb for the patriarchy, the man who everyone agreed had gone beyond the pale. But because Weinstein was unacceptable, some backlashers argued, surely anyone whose misconduct was not quite so bad as his should be forgiven.
For a movement often described as having “gone too far,” Me Too has carried remarkably few legal consequences
Here’s the thing: What happened because of Me Too was that a bunch of powerful men were accused of doing terrible things. Some of those men were investigated. Some of those men who were investigated lost their jobs. Many of the men who were accused became unpopular, although often legions of fans remained loyal. And some of the other accused men remained president or were installed onto the Supreme Court.
Those were the consequences. That was a movement that had gone “too far.”
And despite the repeated use of quasi-legal language from critics of Me Too — the fretting over “due process,” the argument that accused men had “served their time” by spending a few months not performing at famous comedy clubs — none of the high-profile men of the Me Too movement had faced actual legal consequences. Until now, when Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of third-degree rape and a sexual criminal act.
Harvey Weinstein is facing a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 25. He has also been charged with four counts of sexual assault in Los Angeles, where he will soon face trial. But he was acquitted of three of the charges he faced in New York state, and those acquittals matter.
What made Harvey Weinstein’s case shocking to begin with was the overwhelming volume of accusers, the more than 100 women who came forward to say that Weinstein harassed or assaulted or raped them, the apparently undeniable pattern of vicious predatory violence that spanned decades. Legally, that sort of pattern is described as predatory sexual assault, and during Weinstein’s trial, prosecutors attempted to prove a pattern existed in part by calling in Annabella Sciorra to testify as a witness.
Sciorra says that Weinstein raped her in the 1990s, so the statute of limitations has run out on her claim. But prosecutors hoped her testimony, along with that of five other women who testified regarding how Weinstein treated them, would prove to the jury that Weinstein made a pattern of assaulting and raping women.
“He took my hands and put them over my head to hold them back,” Sciorra said on the stand, staring directly at the jury as she raised her hands over her head and locked her wrists. “Then he got on top of me and he raped me.”
But the jury, which scrutinized Sciorra’s testimony closely over a weekend of deliberation, seemed unable to decide that her testimony was truthful beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, the jury acquitted Weinstein on two counts of predatory sexual assault.
Even Harvey Weinstein, the monster of the Me Too movement, the one man who nearly everyone agrees is truly a predator — even he will not face legal consequences for all the crimes of which he has been accused.
In the face of his New York verdict, it’s unclear whether any of the hundreds of other men accused of hurting women in the wake of the Me Too movement will ever be punished at all, or whether the survivors of their actions will ever see justice.
The enormous cultural shift that seemed to have finally come back in October 2017 now seems fuzzy, uncertain. It’s not clear whether anything has really changed in our corrupted and dangerous systems, or if there has been a change, whether it could ever make a meaningful difference. Because if we can’t even agree that Harvey Weinstein was guilty of everything he was accused of, then, my god, who will we ever be able to find guilty?
The question is not whether Me Too has gone too far. The question is whether it will ever be able to go far enough.
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