For the women who spoke out against Harvey Weinstein, the moment was stunning.
“This is a huge day. I’m crying right now because I expected the worst,” said Zoë Brock, an actor who feared Weinstein might not only be acquitted but also make a comeback in Hollywood. “But now Harvey Weinstein is a convicted rapist and right now he’s sitting in Rikers jail and I am so happy about it.”
True, he was not convicted of the most serious charges of predatory sexual assault, which could have sent him to jail for life. But the once-mighty Hollywood producer is facing 5 to 25 years in prison, convicted of third-degree rape of one woman and criminal sexual assault of another.
The jury believed the women — despite a lack of testimony from police and despite withering cross-examination by Weinstein’s lead lawyer, Donna Rotunno, who cast his accusers as opportunistic players in a Hollywood drama where everybody understood the dirty rules.
“The arguments that Harvey’s lawyer made didn’t land well for the jury. They were antiquated arguments that involved a lot of victim-blaming and tried to portray Harvey as the victim of these wily women,” said Debra Katz, a lawyer who represented one of the women who testified. "He was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood who was very skilled at being a predator and choosing his victims, and the jury was just no longer going to give him a pass by saying this is transactional or this is the casting couch culture.”
To those who weren’t closely following the trial in New York, Weinstein’s conviction may have seemed like a foregone conclusion. He was, after all, the one whose behavior launched the #MeToo movement in October 2017, after the New York Times revealed endemic claims of sexual misconduct against him. In all, 109 women publicly accused Weinstein of allegations ranging from sexual propositions and forced massages to rape.
But the criminal trial relied on the claims of just six women and only those allegations that were recent and sturdy enough to be brought into criminal court in New York.
And it followed a familiar timeworn course for sexual offenses: Blaming and shaming the victims.
Take what the defense did to the actor Annabella Sciorra, whose testimony did not produce convictions. Since her alleged rape occurred too long ago to meet the statute of limitations, she testified to bolster two charges of predatory sexual assault, which requires proof of a pattern of two or more assaults. Sciorra said Weinstein shoved his way into her Manhattan apartment, forced her onto her bed and raped her, while she punched and kicked him, the Times reported.
Still, Sciorra faced scrutiny about the choices she had made. Why had she opened her door to Weinstein in the first place? Why didn’t she escape him? Had she tried to scratch him or to poke him in the eyes? Did she complain to the doorman who had let him into her building?
Rotunno even suggested that with her story, Sciorra was seeking a measure of fame she no longer enjoyed as an actor.
"Now she is the darling of a movement,” Rotunno said.
As noted in The Atlantic, the defense even shamed Sciorra’s friends. One was asked what she did to help after learning Sciorra had started cutting herself in the aftermath of the assault. Didn’t she call a doctor? When actor Rosie Perez testified that Sciorra had confided in her about the alleged rape, she was asked whether she went to see her right away.
"They were the ones that were on trial,” said actor Louise Godbold who was among the so-called “Silence Breakers” who reported Weinstein, and who spoke to the media about the verdict on a conference call Monday. "They were the ones whose phones were seized, whose every last photograph and e-mail was scrutinized, their medical records, scrutinized. Harvey didn’t have to go through that. How is that fair? We have to look at the way that we press charges, the way that we conduct these trials, to find a way that is less traumatizing so that more sexual assault survivors will have the courage to come forward.”
To Weinstein’s defense team, it was as if the past two years and 20 weeks had never happened. Weinstein’s lawyers tried to shred the credibility of Weinstein’s accusers, not just by casting doubt on their allegations but by portraying them as the manipulators and using their interactions with Weinstein against them.
Jessica Mann, the actor Weinstein was convicted of raping, had to admit she maintained ties and even had consensual sex with Weinstein later. She also acknowledged she had been sexually abused before she met Weinstein, prompting her to break down in court, according to the Times. Even after she left the courtroom, she could be heard screaming from a back room. Mimi Haleyi, the former movie production assistant Weinstein was convicted of sexually assaulting, had to testify that Weinstein forced oral sex on her, though she had her period. And she, too, acknowledged that she later had consensual sex with Weinstein.
Despite the women’s complicated testimony, the jury believed them.
"This was such a narrow legal hallway to walk down, and many of us really braced ourselves for a not-guilty verdict,” said journalist Lauren Sivan, who was among those who accused Weinstein of misconduct. "It really shows that victim-shaming will not work anymore as a defense. There’s no such thing as a perfect victim. Rape is rape no matter the victim’s behavior, what they wore, what they did.”
Rotunno had already revealed her philosophy on The New York Times’s podcast The Daily, when reporter Megan Twohey asked whether she herself had ever been sexually assaulted.
“I have not,” Rotunno said. "Because I would never put myself in that position.” She was trying to fault the women who had gone to Weinstein’s hotel room. But outside of court, it was a stunningly tone-deaf utterance that merited its own hashtag — #WhereIPutMyself — that survivors of sexual violence began posting on Twitter, along with details of where they’d been raped.
"In a sleeping bag, trying to go to sleep in my cabin at summer camp,” one wrote.
"I was walking across the street to get a sandwich,” wrote another.
That was what the #MeToo movement should have taught us: That this happens everywhere. That women shouldn’t be treated as prey in their workplace, that they are fending off lesser Weinsteins not only on casting couches but in insurance offices and in diners and in factories around the world.
The jury seemed to take that lesson.