Story at a glance

  • Today Harvey Weinstein was convicted of third-degree rape and a first-degree criminal sexual act.
  • Weinstein was acquitted of more serious charges, including predatory sexual assault
  • The large number of women who have come forward with accusations against the former Hollywood producer sparked the nationwide #MeToo movement.

Former American film producer Harvey Weinstein has been found guilty of the third-degree rape of actress Jessica Mann and a first-degree criminal sexual act against Mimi Haley, a former "Project Runway" production assistant, by a New York jury. The verdict could land him between five and 29 years in prison — possibly a life sentence for the now 67-year-old.

Despite the guilty verdict, Weinstein was acquitted of multiple criminal charges that would have carried an even heavier sentencing: two counts of predatory sexual assault — each of which could mean a lifetime sentence behind bars — and the first-degree rape of Mann. 

The sentencing is a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement, which largely sprung from the brave accusations of rape and sexual assault against Weinstein by more than 60 women in the film industry and beyond. 

"While it is disappointing that today’s outcome does not deliver the true, full justice that so many women deserve, Harvey Weinstein will now forever be known as a convicted serial predator," said the Silence Breakers in a statement, a group that represents prominent Weinstein accusers. "This conviction would not be possible without the testimony of the courageous women and the many women who have spoken out."

While many consider Weinstein’s partial guilty verdict a victory for victims everywhere, it brings up questions regarding the future of such cases going forward. 

Rape in the third degree

To understand Weinstein’s sentencing, we must first understand what it means to commit rape in the third degree, as well as what a criminal sexual act is.

Haley alleged Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in his Manhattan apartment in 2006. More than 10 years after the assault. Weinstein is facing time for rape in the third degree, which is described by New York state penal code as having “sexual intercourse with another person who is incapable of consent,” and is technically the least weighty degree of rape one can be convicted of. The victim may be incapable of consent for a number of reasons — be it that they are a minor or perhaps they were coerced. A Class E felony, the charge can result in between two to five years behind bars. 

To convict on first-degree rape, on the other hand, the prosecutor must show evidence that the defendant subjected the victim to nonconsensual intercourse through forcible compulsion, or that they were “incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless.” In other words, they were perhaps drugged or otherwise incapacitated. Weinstein was not ultimately convicted of this crime. 

Mann said that Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013, telling jurors she believed he injected his penis to induce an erection before he assaulted her. His ultimate conviction of a criminal sexual act against Mann is the most serious of the two and a Class B felony. A person is declared guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree if they engage in either oral or anal sex with someone incapable of consent. They can also be deemed guilty for the use of “forcible compulsion,” employing force or the threat of force to commit the crime. 

Though Weinstein’s trial in New York has concluded. it doesn’t mean it’s the end for him, as he also faces a sex crimes case in Los Angeles. There, Weinstein is being charged with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in separate incidents on two consecutive days in 2013 — a case for which he has yet to enter a plea. 

The questionable future of assault cases

Presently in the United States, a mere 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police. Out of those reported, only around half of the arrests made go to trial, according to RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. 

RAINN also reports that perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail than other criminals, with 995 perpetrators out of a 1,000 walking free. The reason, they say, is a combination of many assaults not being reported, cases not being brought to trial and the accused either not being convicted or not receiving jail time.

The good news is that the high visibility of the #MeToo movement helped a number of women step forward from the shadows to speak their truth about their assaulters. In fact, from fall 2017 to today, the number of people helped by RAINN's victim services program has increased from 15,000 a month to 25,000 a month, Scott Berkowitz, the president of RAINN, told ABC News. 

Despite these encouraging statistics, many believe there is still a lot of work to be done.  

“A single case cannot define a movement," says Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. "The barriers that we as a society are creating for survivors coming forward and people accused not being held accountable are what allow this problem to continue to thrive." 

It’s yet to be seen how Weinstein’s verdict will ultimately affect similar cases going forward, but it is doubtless that the visibility of the once-powerful producer being taken away in handcuffs (without his walker, it’s worth noting) will send a message to victims and perpetrators alike. What we have learned since the first domino fell is that statistically the more victims who speak out, the more guilty verdicts there will be.

“Whether you are an office worker, a nanny, an assistant, a cook, a factory worker — we all have to deal with the spectre of sexual violence derailing our lives,” says Tarana Burke, creator of the viral “MeToo” hashtag. “And, though today a man has been found guilty, we have to wonder whether anyone will care about the rest of us tomorrow. This is why we say MeToo.”

Published on Feb 24, 2020