March 11, 2020 at 04:25PM by CWC
On February 24, a jury in New York convicted producer Harvey Weinstein on two of the five charges for which he faced trial: rape in the third degree and criminal sexual assault in the first degree. As the news broke, my colleague Katie (who asked to use a pseudonym) and I—both victims in our own right—were shocked; we didn’t think Weinstein’s victims would be believed or protected. And that, I think, is a pretty good indication of how far we still have to go in the war against sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination, despite sporadic victories yielded by the #MeToo movement.
UPDATE: On March 11, Harvey Weinstein, 67, was sentenced to 23 years in New York State prison after his conviction on felony sex crimes.
My #MeToo experience involved the movie business, and it has given me an empathy for the victims that I just didn’t think Weinstein’s jury would be able to muster. Much like his victims, I’d had to walk a tightrope; on one side, my livelihood was threatened and on the other, my sense of safety.
In order to report the male executive who was harassing me (I was an assistant), I’d had to strategically circumvent the “old boys club” that ran the studio. I knew that if I told my (male) boss what was happening, he would protect the (male) perpetrator, and that I would be the one to lose my job. I was too scared to approach the (male) colleague who headed human resources department, so I instead confided in his (female) assistant. She told me she had to report it to her boss, who then told me he had to report it to his boss who, luckily, was a woman. She then reported it to the human resources department of our parent company, which finally took action. If your head is spinning after that explanation, then you’re feeling a minuscule amount of the confusion and doubt I did during this time.
I do not believe the outcome—my harasser’s employment was terminated—would have been the same had I reported directly to my boss or anyone else in my own department. In other words, I am well aware of how complicated it can be to navigate these matters when your career is at stake.
My experience in the industry made it very easy for me to understand why Weinstein’s victims behaved the way they did, why they met him in hotel rooms despite the implications of such venues and continued communication with him after being victimized. Had my direct boss, the one with total responsibility for my employment, been the one to harass me, I can assure you I would not have reported the abuse. After all, this job was my big break into Hollywood, and I thought I was lucky to just be in the room. In terms of power, Weinstein was my boss x 1000.
This is incredibly nuanced territory, so it’s not surprising to me that the men I know—nice men who respect women—are confused by so much of what they’re witnessing with #MeToo. They can’t wrap their heads around why a woman would wait 20 years to report, why she wouldn’t “just leave the room” or say no, why she’d continue to engage with someone who had victimized her. And because Weinstein’s jury was predominantly male—and because of women like Weinstein’s defense attorney, Donna Rotunno, who told the New York Times she’d never put herself in a position to be assaulted (victim-blaming at its finest)—I worried the behavior of Weinstein’s victims wouldn’t be understood by those responsible for deciding whether or not that they were to be believed.
Katie felt the same way, for different reasons. She was sexually assaulted by someone she knew, and like Weinstein’s victims, she remained in contact with her attacker after the attack. “I couldn’t really process or believe what happened to me, so I still texted with him,” she says. “I think it was sort of a survival instinct. One time I even reached out to him first. I think it was my way of trying to control the situation—if I could talk to this person still then maybe he wasn’t so bad and maybe this bad thing didn’t actually happen.”
Katie didn’t report her assault because she figured she wouldn’t be believed. After all, by the time she’d actually processed what had happened to her, weeks had passed and she’d remained in contact with her rapist throughout. She didn’t think Weinstein’s victims had a prayer of being believed for essentially those very reasons.
The fact that we view Weinstein’s conviction as unexpected is an indictment of our culture’s ongoing, largely dismissive response to sexual violence. “It’s really sad that so many people thought he was going to get away with it because that’s usually what happens,” says Katie. Katie and I both can’t help but think of Brett Kavanaugh, who was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice even after Christine Blasey Ford shared her chilling story of alleged sexual assault at his hands. Or of Brock Turner, the Stanford University swimmer who was convicted of sexual assault, and yet sentenced to just six months incarceration. (We won’t know until March what fate awaits Weinstein.)
In the wake of this historic verdict, Katie’s feelings about the future for victims like her are a mixed bag. “Now [after the Weinstein verdict] it’s this weird feeling, like, ‘Wow, Weinstein’s going to jail for doing the same thing this person did to me,’” she says. That’s progress. Still, Katie doesn’t know if it means more women will be believed generally. When asked if she thinks her story would be believed by a jury, her answer is still negative. “Probably not—I still don’t trust that the criminal justice system will help people who were sexually assaulted,” says Katie.
Still, I am hopeful, because it seems like people are finally starting to listen. Not just to the victims of sexual harassment and assault, but to the experts tasked with explaining why we act the way we do in its aftermath. I know the world looks a lot different for men than it does for women, and that those differences may make it difficult for empathy—which requires one to put themselves in the shoes of another—to flow. The #MeToo movement has been a significant step toward a greater understanding between the sexes, and if the Weinstein verdict is any indication, the world may soon be a very different place for survivors.
Originally published February 26, 2020; updated March 11, 2020.
What it’s like to finally reckon with your sexual assault years after it happens. Here’s how to talk to your partner about a past experience with sexual assault. And this is why the myth of the “false rape accusation” continues to endure.