Harvey Weinstein Verdict Is #MeToo Milestone But Changes Little for World's Sexual Assault Survivors
This article was originally published on Feb. 24 and was updated on March 13 to reflect recent developments.
The former Hollywood mogul was sentenced to 20 years for a criminal sexual act in the first degree, and three years for rape in the third degree. Once Weinstein serves his sentence, the court ordered that he be under post-release supervision for 10 years for both charges. The court also ordered Weinstein to register as a sex offender.
During a trial that lasted more than a month, six women testified that Weinstein, the founder of The Weinstein Company — a film studio behind popular films from Halloween to Inglourious Basterds — had sexually assaulted them.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated Weinstein’s case over the course of five days. Weinstein pleaded not guilty and denies all allegations of non-consensual sex. He was convicted for a criminal sexual act in the first degree for forcing a sex act on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in July 2006, as well as rape in the third degree for raping aspiring actress Jessica Mann at a hotel in 2013. He was acquitted of two counts of predatory sexual assault, which would have resulted in a life sentence.
Weinstein could have faced anywhere between five and 25 years in prison. He also faces separate sex crimes charges in Los Angeles.
The verdict is a major win for the #MeToo movement, founded by activist Tarana Burke and relaunched by actress Alyssa Milano when high-profile women started going public about Weinstein’s abuse in 2017. Nearly 100 women have come forward against Weinstein, and the movement has inspired hundreds of thousands of other sexual survivors to speak out. Several US states have expanded workplace harassment protections since.
As the movement picked up steam, the United Nations emphasized the need to ensure no one is left behind in the fight to achieve gender equality. The social media campaign also sparked an international rallying cry for justice in developing and wealthy countries alike. Namibia launched one of Africa’s first #MeToo movements. Nigeria, Egypt, and other countries followed suit, while women in Japan introduced the #KuToo campaign to protest sexist dress codes. South Africans shared personal stories of sexual assault and gender-based violence on Twitter. And Indian women started speaking out against rampant sexual harassment in the workplace.
But experts say Weinstein’s case will likely not impact the treatment of sexual assault survivors globally.
“This case reminds us that sexual violence thrives on unchecked power and privilege,” Burke said in a statement released to Global Citizen. “The implications reverberate far beyond Hollywood and into the daily lives of all of us in the rest of the world.”
Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of women's rights organization Equality Now, considers Weinstein's criminal charges a victory but said it’s a “drop in the ocean” in the effort to protect sexual assault survivors worldwide.
“I can't say that this has a huge impact on international legal systems that actually prevent women from coming forward,” Hassan told Global Citizen on March 11.
It is estimated that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner. While the #MeToo movement has encouraged women worldwide to report sexual abuse, Hassan said many are met with defamation lawsuits or other forms of retaliation. Sexual assault and rape laws are still far behind in countries around the world, she said.
There is no international treaty on gender-based violence in the workplace. While 154 countries have sexual harassment laws, the laws aren’t always enforced or they don’t meet international standards. The majority of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported because survivors fear retaliation from their abuser or society, don’t think the authorities would help, and don’t want to be retraumatized if the justice system doesn’t believe them.
On March 9, the United Nations held the annual Commission on the Status of Women, where world leaders gathered to discuss the state of gender equality. Hassan said she planned to use Weinstein’s case and the #MeToo movement to put pressure on governments to reevaluate how the justice system treats sexual violence survivors at the commission.
“It takes a key change, country by country, to get women the courage to come forward,” Hassan said.