The verdict in Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial is in, but Canadian experts say it remains to be seen how the landmark #MeToo case will be judged by history.
After five days of deliberation, a jury convicted Weinstein of raping an aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in 2006 by forcibly performing oral sex on her. The disgraced movie mogul faces up to 29 years in prison.
Weinstein was found not guilty of the most serious charges, two counts of predatory sexual assault, each carrying a sentence of up to life in prison.
Canadian actor and #AfterMeToo co-founder Mia Kirshner, who was among the dozens of Weinstein accusers watching the trial, tweeted that Weinstein was “found guilty. He is. He did this.”
But Halifax legal scholar Wayne MacKay said the “mixed verdict” may come as a disappointment to some #MeToo supporters, because it doesn’t account for the full breadth of Weinstein’s alleged pattern of predatory behaviour.
The #MeToo movement was largely galvanized by cases of powerful men accused of abusing their authority to commit serial acts of sexual violence against women, said MacKay, a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s law school.
“I think the predatory sexual assault (charges) best captured that kind of problem,” MacKay said, noting there is no Canadian equivalent for the New York criminal charge, which requires prosecutors show the defendant committed a prior rape or other sex crime.
“The fact that they did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that he engaged in that is what’s disappointing.”
Sociologist Judith Taylor said the fact that Weinstein was found guilty on two counts likely comes as a “relief” to sexual-assault survivors who long ago lost faith in the criminal system as a mechanism for justice.
“I don’t think that there’s a bitter sweetness to the actual finding,” said Taylor, an associate professor at University of Toronto. “I think that he was found guilty in any way is quite shocking for most women.”
The Weinstein trial shows that society has evolved when it comes to understanding sexual assault cases, said Taylor, noting the “extraordinary camaraderie” among the women who testified in support of those bringing charges.
“I do think that it was, in many ways, a kind of litmus test of how powerful #MeToo was,” she said. “This will be part of the history books of the efficacy of the movement. There’s no doubt about it.”
Farrah Khan, manager of Ryerson University’s Consent Comes First sexual violence support group, warned against letting the courts render judgement on the #MeToo movement, which is being led by the survivors it has systematically silenced.
“This movement is not about holding people who cause harm like Harvey Weinstein accountable,” said Khan. “It’s about ensuring that the voices of people who’ve been hurt and harmed are heard, seen and believed.”
Weinstein is set to be sentenced on March 11. His lawyers have said Monday they intended to appeal the verdict.
— with files from the Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2020.