CW: This article discusses sexual violence against women.
Harvey Weinstein has been convicted of sexual assault and rape by a New York jury. The disgraced former movie producer was convicted of third degree rape and criminal sexual act in the first degree.
This is a milestone verdict, particularly given the highly publicised nature of the case as well as the current continuing uprising of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which encourage survivors of rape and sexual assault to report and speak out about their experiences.
However, this is a remarkable result on other grounds: the reasoning which led to the conviction of Weinstein not being solely evidential, but on the basis of simply believing the women who had come forward.
Gloria Allred, a well-known feminist lawyer who represented some of the women who accused Weinstein (including production assistant Mimi Haleyi, who accused him of a criminal sexual act in the first degree), spoke to media after the landmark verdict was returned and the convicted Weinstein was led away in handcuffs. She proudly and defiantly told the press that the result was a “legal reckoning for Harvey Weinstein”.
She also said, “This is the age of empowerment for women, and you cannot intimidate them anymore, because women will not be silenced… Justice has been a long time coming, but it is finally here, and it’s not the end. When the verdict came back guilty for Bill Cosby, I said ‘women were believed’. And now that the verdict has come back guilty [for Weinstein], I will say again, women were believed. Please know that this is a new day for victims of gender violence. Law enforcement is now beginning to believe you. Juries are beginning to believe you, and to convict. So just have courage. This is a new day. Justice may be coming for you as well.”
One can only hope that Allred is right, and that this is truly a new day for survivors of sexual assault and gender violence.
There is also a wealth of anecdotal evidence from women from various countries and walks of life who have spoken out about not being believed by law enforcement when they attempted to come forward about sexual assault or gendered violence.
In Australia alone, one in four women have experienced sexual violence.
These experiences have long dissuaded women from coming forward about their assault, and pressing charges against their attackers. To put it simply, they did not have faith in the justice system to listen to them, believe them, and deliver justice to them. And why would you put yourself through the emotional, mental, financial and physical stress of a long-winded trial if you didn’t have any hope that the system would be fair to you?
I am one of those women. I’ve chosen not to go through the heartbreaking, expensive, potentially life-ruining experience of taking my attacker to trial for what they did. I simply do not have faith in the system that demands I prove that someone attacked and traumatised me instead of demanding they prove they didn’t, and I do not have faith in a system that has historically let down women over and over again. I’ve seen it fail us all far too many times.
I’ve chosen not to go through the heartbreaking, expensive, potentially life-ruining experience of taking my attacker to trial for what they did.
For someone who already deals with the overwhelming and permanent trauma of being assaulted, I’ve always seen taking my attacker to court as too big risk for my physical well-being and mental health, as well as my career and financial stability.
But today’s news does give me a little nudge of hope. It gives me hope that the tide may be turning for women who go to court, that they’re actually listened to and believed. It gives me hope that the women who demand justice actually have a chance of getting it.
It gives me hope that more women like me - the everyday women, the ones whose cases won’t make the front page news - could come forward. It gives me hope that this might be a new day for women after all.
The National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.