On Monday, February 24, a Manhattan jury found Harvey Weinstein guilty of rape in the third degree and criminal sexual assault in the first. In plain language, this means he had sexual intercourse with someone who could not give consent for a reason other than physical force or mental incapability, and that he physically forced someone into sexual contact with him. He was also being charged with two counts of predatory sexual assault, a charge which in this case would be a declaration that he was a serial predator. On these counts, he was found innocent. According to the New York Times, he could receive a sentence of anywhere between five and 29 years at his sentencing on March 11.
While this guilty verdict may be a historical moment just for the fact that another man will not get off scot-free, this sentencing may show if our justice system truly functions to hold predators like Weinstein responsible for their actions.
The hardly concealed sexual predation that Weinstein perpetrated for so long was first exposed to the public in a New York Times piece in 2017. Numerous actors came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment in the workplace. From there, the accusations poured out, some in the form of lawsuits, others in anonymous statements, and many as Tweets. This was, of course, occurring at the very center of the #MeToo movement, where women spoke out through Twitter about sexual predators. In his trial, he was accused of things like masturbating in front of a woman in a stairwell and barging into a woman’s apartment and raping her.
Weinstein’s defense lawyer, Donna Rotunno, has argued that these women consensually had sex with him because they knew it would further their careers. She plans to appeal his case after March 11; perhaps she is not anticipating a favorable sentence. She commented about the verdict that “Harvey is very strong. He took it like a man.” I guess championing the masculinity of a sexual predator is to be expected from a woman who claimed on The Daily podcast that she had never been sexually assaulted because she wouldn’t put herself in that position. One actor’s accusation of rape against Weinstein dates back to the early ’90s, and there is a consensus in Hollywood that Weinstein’s unsavory actions have been an open secret in show business for a large part of his illustrious career. So why did it take until 2017 to bring such a heinous figure to trial? Rotunno’s “taking it like a man” statement clings on to more than just a value of traditional gender roles. Her words hold a glaring contradiction. If the staples of manhood are making tough calls, then why did the men surrounding Weinstein not make the call to address his behavior before now?
Quentin Tarantino, whose films Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Bastards have been produced by Weinstein, came forward after the allegations to condemn him, and apologize for not doing anything about it himself. In an interview, he said that for a long time he’d been hearing about and ignoring Weinstein’s actions, and more than just “the normal rumors, the normal gossip.”
Other men in Hollywood said that they were blind to his misconduct that happened right under their nose. I’m glad that they’re repenting now in formal apologies for their inaction, while for decades, women who were being abused by him felt that their careers hinged on their silence. Men in power, with less to risk and who claim that they should have known better and spoke up, did not speak up.
It shouldn’t be hard to see a common culture — from high schools to Hollywood — of men protecting men. Hollywood’s accusations just happen on Twitter rather than on bathroom walls. And just as Hollywood’s elite are not rid of sexual predators, neither are the rest of us. Behind each predator let off the hook, there is an entire circle of men abiding by the “bro code” and reacting with protection and denial.
When women came forward with the #MeToo movement, many men dropped the shield of brotherhood and picked up the veil of ignorance. On the one hand, I hope that Weinstein’s sentence appropriately condemns his behavior, but the most important lesson we can learn from this history is that men who say they know better and have the power to choose their friends should use that power by calling them out now.