Before he began to use a walking frame or started dressing like a dishevelled, put-upon victim, rather than what he was — one of the most powerful figures in world entertainment — Harvey Weinstein bristled with powder-keg presence; the kind of presence some imagine is leadership, but others know as something very different. Were he to feature in one of his films, it would be as a character actor rather than as a leading man. He did not, from a distance at least, seem immediately avuncular or engaging.
On Monday, a New York jury found Weinstein guilty of third-degree rape and a criminal sex act, for forcing oral sex on a woman. The disgraced plutocrat was handcuffed and taken away to join New York’s criminals in detention. A March 11 sentencing could see him jailed for 25 years. His
difficulties do not end there. He is to face a Los Angeles court on charges of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force, and sexual battery by restraint. If convicted, he can be jailed for up to 28 years.
It is always, as our own records show, more than difficult to convict a powerful person of more or less anything. Despite that, or because of that, it took decades and brave women — and career-risking journalists, too — to bring Weinstein to book. Without the testimony of those women, Weinstein’s staff might be booking his flights to May’s Cannes Film Festival. That is not to be and the women there who might have been on his radar need not worry about him, though it seems unlikely he was the only predator stalking these events.
It does not undervalue the courage of those women to suggest they are part of a movement rather than a once-off event. They supported each other and were energised by the #MeToo movement. They were not facing the monster alone and though sometimes the targets of professional spooks hired by Weinstein, public opinion was on their side.
It is distressing then that as Weinstein’s first ordeal came to an end, days earlier an Irish woman was subject to a frightening ordeal in a courtroom. A victim, she was attacked by supporters of two men jailed for seven years for her rape. When the victim went to leave, a connection of one rapist shouted: “Are you happy now?” Another person then told the rape victim that “you’re going to pay for this”. In January, when the sentencing date was set, a “two blue hearts” campaign began on social media, purporting to support the rapists. The blue hearts circulated online again after sentencing. This woman was raped, then targeted on social media, and then abused in what should be a secure environment.
This case is not unique.
There are many stories of victims facing the anger of the friends and families of those convicted of the crimes. This rubs salt into a very deep wound and is unacceptable. It also highlights the ambiguities that allow the world’s Weinsteins to thrive.
It is time we had legislation to protect victims from the relatives or friends of those convicted of serious crime. If the law can bring a titanic figure like Weinstein to heel, then this seems a small enough, but very important, expectation.