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08 April, 2020
 
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Harvey Weinstein found guilty at rape trial

Film mogul faces prison time, as verdict may encourage more women to come forward

Source: The Guardian

Harvey Weinstein, the fallen titan of Hollywood whose sexual abuse of aspiring young female actors sparked the #MeToo movement, has finally been brought to justice after a New York jury found him guilty.

The movie mogul’s epic fall from grace is now complete, toppled from the pinnacle of independent cinema where he helmed films such as Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love, amassing a total of 81 Oscars. The glamorous Manhattan and Los Angeles lifestyle he once enjoyed will soon be replaced by a New York state prison cell as he faces jail time.

The jury of seven men and five women at the New York supreme court took five days to reach their verdict.

The conviction marks the final comeuppance for a towering figure who wielded his power in the movie industry – as well as his commanding physical presence – over vulnerable young women seeking his help.

Though Judge James Burke cautioned the jury not to see the case as a referendum on #MeToo, Weinstein’s conviction is certain to have far-reaching consequences for gender relations in the workplace, in Hollywood and far beyond. The world of powerful men who deploy their seniority as tools of sexual control is much less secure in its wake.

Michelle Simpson Tuegel, an attorney representing victims of sexual assault, said she expected to see a wave of women coming forward with complaints against other sexual abusers. “No matter how powerful a person is, no matter how much mud or dirt may be flung at those who have the courage to come forward, we are in a new time. The #MeToo era has thankfully started to unmask these systems of abuse of power, and now women can be heard and believed.”

The guilty verdict could also have a profound impact on the way sex crimes are prosecuted. The New York district attorney’s office took an enormous gamble in how they set up the trial.

Prosecutors chose as main accusers two women, both of whom continued to have close – and at times sexual – contact with Weinstein after they were attacked. In the past, prosecutors have almost always balked at such cases where coerced and consensual sex exists side-by-side, considering them too messy to secure guilty verdicts.

The fact that the tactic succeeded with the jury is a sign of the shifting sands of #MeToo. It suggests that prosecutors might have far more leeway in future to take on cases where victims continue to be in the thrall of their attackers after sexual assaults – a scenario which sex crimes experts say is all too common and yet up til now has been almost entirely neglected by the criminal courts.

As psychiatrist Barbara Ziv told the jury in expert testimony, “it is the norm to have contact with the assailant.”

Such a striking victory can be credited to the two intrepid prosecutors, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Meghan Hast, who meticulously laid out the defendant’s culpability. They did so against the headwinds generated by Weinstein’s lawyers led by the Chicago-based sex crimes defender Donna Rotunno who was so aggressive towards witnesses that she induced in one of the two main accusers a fully fledged panic attack.

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