Film production giant Harvey Weinstein faced court today in relation to five counts of sexual assault and rape.
Weinstein’s lawyers asked the court to dismiss all of the criminal charges against him. The judge, James Burke, rejected this motion out of hand and ordered that the trial will go ahead.
This was likely Weinstein’s final shot at kneecapping the case, and it failed.
The significance of this moment cannot be underestimated: it’s the first time a high-profile man accused of abuse through the #MeToo movement will face criminal charges.
Other high-profile abusers, including USA Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar and performer Bill Cosby, have been convicted of criminal charges relating to sexual abuse and harassment. But in both of these cases, the allegations were public long before #MeToo.
Weinstein is the first man in this most recent groundswell of accusations to face serious criminal consequences.
In October last year, the New York Times uncovered the allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein. In May of this year, a grand jury indicted Weinstein on five felony charges: two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of rape in the first degree, one count of rape in the third degree and one count of committing criminal sexual acts.
Weinstein and his team knew that today’s hearing would be an important one: it was the first time Weinstein personally appeared in court.
In their motion to dismiss all charges, Weinstein’s lawyers weren’t shy about who they were choosing to blame. Their motion to dismiss rests on a series of “warm” emails sent by one accuser to Weinstein after the alleged assault took place.
Weinstein’s lawyers argued that the sexual encounter could not have been non-consensual given that it was followed by these emails.
“These communications irrefutably reflect the true nature of this consensual intimate friendship, which never at any time included a forcible rape,” their motion states.
Of course, any lawyer should know that consent cannot be provided after the fact, and indeed that consent does not act as a blanket covering all sexual acts as soon as a sexual relationship is established.
It seems Judge Burke knows this, too.
At the end of today’s hearing, Judge Burke had three options. He could have dismissed all five felony charges and released Weinstein, ordered an evidentiary hearing or dismissed Weinstein’s motion.
He chose to dismiss Weinstein’s motion out of hand. There will be no further evidentiary hearing. The case will proceed straight to trial.
This is a hugely significant development for Weinstein’s victims, and all survivors of sexual assault, and here’s why.
One of the biggest snares threatening #MeToo is that while we seem comfortable accepting that sexual abuse and harassment are bad business practices, we still balk at the idea of treating this behaviour as criminal.
In the 14 months of #MeToo, we’ve had endless conversations about what constitutes misconduct in terms of workplace environments, or within relationships built on power imbalances. Many alleged abusers and their supporters have argued that their conduct is unsavoury, but not criminal.
In fact, Weinstein’s lawyers have said so themselves. They said that while his behaviour was “not without fault”, it also did not reach the level of criminality.
But they were wrong. As Judge Burke’s ruling this afternoon demonstrated very clearly, sexual assault is not inappropriate workplace conduct. It is a crime.
And the criminal charges chosen by prosecutors and cleared by Judge Burke today are not insignificant. They are all very serious felonies.
One of the charges – performing criminal sexual acts – carries a life sentence. If found guilty of this or some combination of the other charges, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
This trial is an important symbol of the success of 14 months’ worth of momentum. The hundreds of accusations, the many high-profile firings and disgraced resignations, the civil lawsuits and the women who refused to stay silent have combined to topple the most powerful alleged abuser of them all.
His is a death by a thousand paper cuts.
A guilty verdict on criminal charges would be a hugely significant blow to those insisting that the world has not changed since #MeToo.
I never thought I would see the day that a world-famous Hollywood star would stand before a jury and face a life sentence for sexual assault. But unless Weinstein’s lawyers can come up with another idea, and quickly, it looks like that day is almost upon us.