Harvey Weinstein is a convicted rapist, and after years of his victims being silenced and the law taking its time, we can all finally say it out loud. The former Hollywood film producer, who’ll certainly never work in this town again after being found guilty of a criminal sex act in the first degree and rape in the third degree, faces up to 25 years in jail, and further criminal charges (he denies those allegations.)
Considering the #MeToo movement became an international phenomenon in October 2017, it’s great to finally see, in 2020, this moment of justice. It is simultaneously a lot – for a jury to believe a woman’s words against a man’s – and not enough – for over 100 women to come forward about Weinstein and yet only two charges believed in court.
Of course, this story was going to lead somewhere, because it’s a headline-grabbing case that saw a succession of famous, beautiful women confess their most intimate distresses at the hands of an ogre. But what does it mean for the rest of us?
Government statistics show an estimated 700,000 people (most of them women) will be sexually assaulted annually. Amongst them are survivors who, encouraged by #MeToo, may want to report their rapes, terrified that they might see their attacker again, or he – and it is mostly he – could go on to hurt others.
And then the obstacles come: gagging NDAs, police staffing cuts, phone data requirements, CPS clumsiness, court delays, re-traumatising impacts of speaking up in court, societal attitudes held by jurors, risk of victims’ names being leaked on social media, crass lines of questioning from lawyers and all the pressures that such experiences can put on a victim’s life. Is it any wonder that it seems preferable to stay silent?
These obstacles will always add to the swirling clouds of trauma hanging over a survivor’s head, yet won’t often result in justice. Currently, only 3% of rapes that have been reported to the police will result in a conviction. And it is certainly telling that, of all the jurisdictions Weinstein has been alleged to have raped within, no British police force has yet brought any charges against him.
Our justice system needs to buck up if it wants to keep the public safe from predators. And if it can’t put it right, then newspaper editors and their legal teams must continue to shine a light on #MeToo stories that reach them. Because without Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor and Ronan Farrow, Weinstein would likely still be at large.
And we, as a public, need to realise who rapes and why. As hard as Weinstein’s victims had it during their unimaginably intolerable journey to justice, they were doubtless helped along by his hideousness. It’s pretty tricky to believe, from looking at Weinstein, that any beautiful woman would ever consent to his advances. However, Weinsteins aren’t only the obvious, grotesque-looking bullies who’ve been hiding in plain sight. He, and every other rapist like him (boy, it feels good calling him that), don’t have to look monstrous to be monstrous.
Which is why I want to see a good-looking man on the dock. I want a boyfriend jailed for rape. I want a husband done for assault. I want to see doctors banged up for years for putting their fingers in patients with no warning or purpose other than their own kicks. I want lecturers to be shut away for abusing students. I want women’s former mates to realise, on their way to the cells, that their friendship was ruined by their own brutishness, not their victim’s courage in standing up to it. And I want juries to believe women, to believe anyone, who had a relationship, of any kind, with the person who attacked them. Because that’s how it happens in 85% of cases. Saying yes once doesn’t mean saying yes always, and no always, truly, means no.
As for those victims who don’t know their attackers, because life is hardly easy for them, either, I want to see street harassers fined for shouting out to women what they’d never dare shout to a man. I want to see gym creeps expelled from their contracts, I want the men who grope and hump in the throng of a crammed train carriage to be banned from public transport. I want, quite simply, every person to be able to exist without others leering physical impositions.
For all this to happen, we need misogyny to be regarded as a hate crime, something Labour’s last manifesto got right. And until that happens, we need culture to accept that while Weinstein’s conviction is a rarity, his behaviours aren’t.
#MeToo has always been about each and every person who’s been sexually exploited. Its founder, Tarana Burke, wants justice for all survivors. Let’s remember the brightness of that message as Weinstein slips into the darkness of Rikers Island. Because if you’re angry at Weinstein, you need to be angry at all the others like him. His conviction is the end of his reign of terror, and marks the beginning of so much more justice. Time’s up for him, and it’s coming for the rest.
Sophie Wilkinson is a freelance journalist.