FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2018 file photo, a marcher carries a sign with the popular Twitter hashtag #MeToo used by people speaking out against sexual harassment as she takes part in a Women’s March in Seattle. According to a study published Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, the first sexual experience for many U.S. women was forced or coerced intercourse in their early teens, encounters that for some may have had lasting health repercussions. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2018 file photo, a marcher carries a sign with the popular Twitter hashtag #MeToo used by people speaking out against sexual harassment as she takes part in a Women’s March in Seattle. According to a study published Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, the first sexual experience for many U.S. women was forced or coerced intercourse in their early teens, encounters that for some may have had lasting health repercussions. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

‘We’re all vulnerable’: Harvey Weinstein’s trial could change how sex assault survivors viewed

Disgraced Hollywood mogul convicted on two charges

The conviction of one of Hollywood’s most powerful men at his sexual assault trial Monday could change the way sex crimes are viewed far beyond that New York City courtroom.

Harvey Weinstein was found guilty on two of three charges: a criminal sex act for assaulting production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in 2006 and third-degree rape of a woman in 2013. The jury found him not guilty on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault, that could have resulted in a life sentence.

READ MORE: Harvey Weinstein found guilty of sex crimes in landmark #MeToo trial

To a law professor at the University of B.C., Weinstein’s conviction could mean the tides are changing on sexual assault.

“It is a reminder that even the most powerful people, even the the men who seem most untouchable, aren’t above the law, and that it is possible to use the criminal justice system as one means of trying to hold men accountable for sexual violence against women,” Janine Benedet told Black Press Media shortly after the verdict came down Monday.

“So in that sense, I mean, it does send a positive sort of message.”

Weinstein’s conviction marked a major win for the #MeToo movement, which started with accusations against the disgraced Hollywood mogul made by women who spoke to Ronan Farrow. The piece, published in the New Yorker in the fall of 2017, was followed by one in the New York Times, and scores of accusations made around the industry. Weinstein was arrested in May 2018, seven months after the exposés.

Weinstein faces another sex crimes trial in Los Angeles following charges announced earlier this year.

READ MORE: Harvey Weinstein indicted on new sex crimes charges in LA

During the trial in New York, Weinstein’s lawyers had tried to convince the jury – made up of seven men and five women – that his accusers had used the producer for fame.

During closing arguments, Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno said the case against Weinstein amounted to “regret renamed as rape,” arguing that the women exercised their free will to try to further their careers.

Benedet said that is one of the hurdles victims face when reporting sexual assault. The arguments made by Weinstein’s lawyer, Benedet said, along with acquittal on the most serious charge could hint at the way the power balance in sexual assault cases is viewed.

The way that Weinstein abused his power was just as coercive as using physical force, she noted, even if the jury may not have seen it that way.

“Having control over someone’s future and career prospects… that kind of leverage, when combined with other forms of power like wealth and age and sex is actually very potent and very coercive,” Benedet said.

“The focus of sexual offences is the fact that the victim doesn’t want this to be happening – not the technique the abuser is using.”

Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan courthouse during jury deliberations in his rape trial, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Victims can also buy into the narrative that it’s not assault unless physical force is used, Benedet said, and that can lead them to stay in touch with their abuser.

Some women can stay in touch, and even remain intimate with their abuser, due to fear. In Weinstein’s case, it’s fear of power, she said, but in others, it can be fear of making a fuss or breaking up a family.

“If it’s a spouse you might not be ready to break up your marriage,” Benedet said. “Most often, it’s by family members – the fact that you continue to have a relationship with your grandfather or your uncle or your father is hardly surprising.”

Benedet said women who do report are often made to feel guilty for wanting their abuser in court.

“The idea is that women are supposed to be forgiving, we’re supposed to accept men’s apologies and when we don’t… there is a stereotype that paints us as vindictive,” she said.

And that’s just the start in the troubles that follow when women come forward. For many, both the police and the court processes are long and harrowing.

Women are often expected to be the “perfect victim,” Benedet said.

“But no one can ever meet that standard. There’s always something you’ve been drinking or taking drugs, you went back to his house again, you don’t have perfect chronological recall [of the assault] and on and on it goes.”

Those criteria for being a suitable victim all feed into the stereotype of how sexual assault happens: “Real sexual assault is committed against a woman who’s just living an ordinary, respectable life and is attacked by a stranger who uses violence.”

The myth persists, Benedet said, because of fear.

“We can make ourselves believe that if we don’t go out at night, if we carry our keys between our fingers, or whatever it is we’re supposed to do, we can eliminate the risk of being sexually assaulted,” she said.

But according to Statistics Canada data, 52 per cent of victims know their attacker – and that’s after removing spousal abuse from the equation.

“We’re all vulnerable. And that’s a very hard pill to swallow.”

#MeToo at work: B.C. women share horrifyingly common sexual assaults

– with files from The Associated Press


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

sexual assault

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

From left: Councillor Lucy Taylor, Councillor Barry Banford, Councillor Bill Haring, Mayor Merlin Blackwell, Councillor Lynne Frizzle, Councillor Lyle Mckenzie and Councillor Shelley Sim. (District of Clearwater photo)
Council to consider raising taxes in 2021

The District of Clearwater council is considering a tax increase this year… Continue reading

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Interior Health reported 43 new COVID-19 cases in the region Feb. 23, 2021 and no additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
43 new cases of COVID reported in Interior Health

No new deaths, Williams Lake outbreak over

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

The booklet roots present day activism in the history of racist policies, arguing the history must be acknowledged in order to change. (CCPA)
New resource dives into 150 years of racist policy in B.C.

Racist history must be acknowledged in order to change, authors say

Most Read