Opening act for justice
NEW YORK As the front door of a criminal courtroom opened to usher in Harvey Weinstein, the once-powerful movie mogul looked out at the large gathering of lawyers and reporters and, a dazed expression on his face, mouthed one word: ‘‘Wow.’’
Weinstein – in court in New York City yesterday to face three felony charges, including firstdegree rape – was confronting the public for the first time since dozens of women stepped forward last year to accuse him of sexual misconduct, spurring the #MeToo movement.
But the moment also offered an opportunity for the public to confront Weinstein, a rare entertainment figure to face criminal charges for alleged sexual misconduct, and to confront the culture of abuse and privilege he came to represent.
The charges against Weinstein, filed yesterday by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, also include committing a criminal sexual act in the first degree, and rape in the third degree. They come after a months-long investigation into incidents involving Weinstein and onetime aspiring actress Lucia Evans in 2004 and an unnamed accuser in 2013.
Even as #MeToo advocates see progress in the fact that Weinstein is now facing criminal charges, they wonder what it will take to bring others to justice.
Weinstein, 66, who posted US$1 million bail, has denied the charges.
Caroline Heldman, an Occidental College professor and advocate for sexual assault survivors who has worked with accusers of Weinstein and comedian Bill Cosby, was one of many activists to react to the arraignment with mixed feelings, saying it seemed to require some of the worst offences being committed just to merit a chance at prosecution.
‘‘I’m really happy to see [the Weinstein prosecution] happening, but I do think these cases are still the unicorns of the #MeToo movement and that our legal system is still outdated,’’ she said.
Many of the other media and entertainment figures accused of harassment or sexual misdeeds have avoided prosecution.
Convicting Weinstein this time may be a tall order. Without physical evidence, a case can become a verbal battle between alleged victim and alleged perpetrator, something a defence attorney could use to sow reasonable doubt, experts say.
One issue Weinstein prosecutors are not facing is a statute of limitations, which can often expire while victims, possibly traumatised, refrain for years from coming forward.
Experts are also taking note of the successful strategy used by prosecutors in the case of Cosby, who was convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault last month in AP Pennsylvania. A jury could not reach a verdict last year, when only two accusers were allowed to testify. A new jury found Cosby guilty after six accusers testified.
There was plenty of satisfaction and relief among the scores of Weinstein accusers as the disgraced movie mogul was arraigned. But emotions were mixed.
Actress Rose McGowan tweeted: ‘‘We got you, Harvey Weinstein.’’ But she also expressed uncertainty about how the case would play out in what she called an ‘‘elusive’’ justice system.
Others, like Louisette Geiss, who is a lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Weinstein, warned that there was a long way to go before ultimate vindication.
‘‘This is a win, but not THE win,’’ said Geiss, who alleges that Weinstein once tried to physically force her to watch him masturbate. ‘‘The win would be him behind bars, not living on an estate somewhere.
‘‘He’s not taking responsibility for a single one of these victims,’’ she said. ‘‘He looks like he’s just going through the machinery to get to the next step.’’
Another accuser, actress Caitlin Dulany, who has alleged a 1996 encounter with Weinstein in which he picked her up at her apartment before a dinner and stripped naked, said the day had meaning not only to those who had publicly accused Weinstein but to other victims who had not felt able to come forward.
On Twitter, some were more outspoken than others.
‘‘Today Harvey Weinstein will take his first step on his inevitable descent to hell,’’ wrote another accuser, actress Asia Argento.
A number of women spoke proudly of their conviction that the Weinstein case, and the #MeToo reckoning that it sparked, would have a profound and permanent impact on how society treats powerful abusers – and those who come forward to accuse them.
‘‘We can’t go backward,’’ McGowan said. ‘‘The genie can’t go back in the bottle. This is the first time since written history that women are being believed – begrudgingly, but still.’’
Washington Post, AP
Former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is escorted into court in New York City after he surrendered to police to face rape and other charges resulting from encounters with two women.