The victimisation of defendants in relation to the Harvey Weinstein trial

On Monday the 24th February, powerful Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein, was found guilty of two felony sex crimes in a New York courthouse, leaving him with a prison sentence of up to 29 years. Events had been leading up to this trial for a long time as activist hoped there would be a momentous turning point after more than 80 women had accused Weinstein of assault over the years. Following the trial there is still however lots of anger and frustration still remaining over the court’s verdict, despite its successes.

Weinstein was still acquitted on three other sexual assault counts, including the two most serious charges against him – being a sexual predator. This meant Weinstein has been able to avoid life imprisonment and this decision plays into the view that defendants are often victimised and taken pity upon, despite serious evidence against them.

Suggesting that they had wilfully consented to his actions

In defence of the film mogul, Weinstein’s lawyers repeatedly raised questions about the credibility of his accusers throughout the trial and Jessica Mann, who testified against Weinstein, suffered a gruelling cross examination from the defence leading her to break down in tears. She was grilled on why she maintained a relationship with him after the assault. This was done to turn the responsibility away from Weinstein and onto the victims, by suggesting that they had wilfully consented to his actions where this was actually far from the case.

Lawyers also strategically placed Weinstein with a Zimmer frame for press photos making the film producer seem vulnerable and innocent in the whole case, causing the jury to potentially take more pity over him. Whilst it is true that Weinstein is aging and has faced weaken health recently, this still gives a partial view of Weinstein that despite his flaws he is more innocent in the case, thereby weakening the argument of many real victims in the case.

This detracted from the core root of the problem which was Weinstein’s exploitation of much younger females

Weinstein’s lead attorney Donna Rotunna during the trial also tried to tear down a key witness stating “you were manipulating Mr Weinstein so you’d get invited to fancy parties, correct? You wanted to use his power, correct?”. This meant that throughout, the defence held the view that women were using Weinstein as a sort of power grab in order to advance themselves. Crucially this detracted from the core root of the problem which was Weinstein’s exploitation of much younger females as their boss.

Many therefore see the defence’s shifting of the argument as responsible for Harvey Weinstein not having been given an even stronger punishment by the courts. Harvey Weinstein showed no sympathy throughout the whole trial, maintaining his victim status throughout. Weinstein reportedly said “but I’m innocent” three times to his lawyers during the trial and appeared shocked when he was handcuffed, leading to there being more of a victim persona surrounding him. According to one of his attorneys Arthur Aidala he also continues to be “in disbelief” of his charges having been moved to Bellevue Hospital for urgent care.

Those who portray themselves as victims are sometimes prosecuted, but at times get away with their action

Weinstein’s case can be seen to link into the wider trends of the defendant as a victim which Steven Zipperstein argues in a research paper has seen a spike in popularity as a court strategy. In his paper, Zipperstein argues that there isn’t enough clarity in the court framework meaning that those who portray themselves as victims are sometimes prosecuted, but at times get away with their actions more, as their other characteristics are focused on in the context of the whole trial such as their age, physical conditions and mental state.

This being said however, whilst #MeToo supporters recognise that the system is not perfect they do still think that the trial is a step in the right direction for gaining the justice that victims of sexual assault deserve despite the continued victimisation of defendants. Miriam Haley who was one of the main accusers of Weinstein said to CBS News that she was relieved that “we’re making progress”. Lawyer Gloria Allred also added that “this justice has been a long time coming”.

Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunna, who is a well-known critic of the #MeToo movement has since said that “the fight is not over” and will attempt to appeal the guilty verdict of rape and sexual assault cases against Weinstein. During the trial she further placed the blame onto the brave victims who were trying to face up to Weinstein by saying “We have created a society where women don’t have to take any responsibility for their actions.” This indicates that the fight against sexual assaulters isn’t over yet and powerful individuals will continue to go to great lengths to defend themselves even in the face of widespread opposition.

By bravely standing up to these acts of dominance, people can fight for what’s right

Whilst lawyers such as Donna Rotunna will continue to argue that women had some sort of way of stopping Weinstein and taking control of their own destiny, ultimately this argument does not stand for many activists- myself included. Male dominance is likely to continue in many powerful professions such as the Hollywood film industry and there’s little women can do at the time to stop such assaults from taking place. Yet, by bravely standing up to these acts of dominance, people can fight for what’s right and bring about gradual change in the courts to hopefully knock off the victimisation of defendants that continues in the judicial system.

Lauren McGaun

Featured image courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Flickr. No changes made to this image. Image license found here

In article image courtesy of @ichy_vagenda via Twitter. No changes were made to this image. 

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