Harvey Weinstein’s Conviction and Sexual Assault in Hollywood
Trigger warning: This article mentions rape and sexual assault
Harvey Weinstein was a well known and respected producer in Hollywood — until continuous reports from models, actresses, and other females in the entertainment industry accusing Weinstein of rape and sexual assault eventually left him bankrupt and imprisoned. Despite the first allegations against the movie mogul being made in the 1990s, no legal actions were taken until 2018.
In 2015, model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez reported Weinstein to the New York Police Department for groping her during a meeting. In response, officers convinced her to wear a wire while meeting with Weinstein again in order to record a confession. Gutierrez got the recorded confession while refusing an invitation to his room and ensuring her safety. However, the New York District Attorney’s office decided not to pursue the case, saying there was not enough support for a criminal charge.
Later, in 2017, the stories of Gutierrez and other victims were published in a series of articles by the “New Yorker” and “The New York Times.” These articles inspired many other women to share their stories and fueled the #MeToo movement that raised public awareness of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Following these stories, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled Weinstein “to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.” A few months after the expulsion, Weinstein’s production company filed for voluntary bankruptcy in March 2018. Later that same year, Weinstein surrendered himself to officers at the NYPD station and was initially charged with first-degree rape, a first-degree criminal sex act, and third-degree rape.
In January 2020, Weinstein’s trial began in New York City, where he faced five charges — including rape and sexual assault — in relation to Jessica Mann’s experiences in 2013 and Mimi Haleyi’s in 2006. Both women related graphic and emotional testimonies to the jury about how Weinstein had forced himself on them after inviting them to a hotel room or his home. “If he heard the word 'no,' it was like a trigger for him,” Mann told jurors. During the trial, six other victims were called to the stand, including Annabella Sciorra, who played a role in “The Sopranos.” Sciorra recounted how Weinstein forced himself into her home after a party they both attended in the early 1990s. He raped her despite her objections and attempts to fight back. While the other victim’s cases are not the basis of any specific charges against Weinstein, the defense used their testimonies to support a more general — and serious — charge of predatory sexual assault.
Weinstein entered the trial pleading “not guilty,” with his attorneys attempting to convince the jury that all the aforementioned sexual interactions were consensual. The jury found him guilty of third-degree rape and a criminal sexual act in the first degree, although he was acquitted of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual behavior. With this verdict, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
About two years later, in October of 2022, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office brought Weinstein to trial on 11 more charges of rape and sexual assault. Before the trial actually started, however, prosecutors dropped four of those charges related to an anonymous victim, Jane Doe #5, leaving Weinstein with seven charges relating to four women’s experiences between 2004 and 2013. All four survivors testified — including Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who is now the wife of California Governor Gavin Newsom.
During the trial, the Deputy District Attorneys on the case heavily attacked Weinstein's character, portraying him as a monster and comparing him to images of wolves and bear traps. In parallel, Weinstein's attorneys also took a much more aggressive approach to defend him. They attacked witnesses' credibility and questioned their sexual behavior. In one notable instance, one of Weinstein's attorneys called Siebel Newsom “just another bimbo who slept with Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.” They further claimed that all sexual acts were transactional, as sex is commonly used in Hollywood to help aspiring professionals gain power and prestige.
Of the seven charges in this case, the jury found Weinstein guilty of three. He was acquitted of one charge and the jury was undecided on the last three. Weinstein was sentenced to 16 more years in prison, to be served after his first 23-year sentence from the New York trial, at the order of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa Lench. Many believe this addition to his sentence time will effectively keep Weinstein in jail for the rest of his life, as he is now 70 years old.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from these trials was the #MeToo movement, which gave rise to more open conversations about workplace harassment and included many women sharing their stories and showing support for one another. Further, there have been numerous efforts in Hollywood to prevent continued sexual harassment since Weinstein's convictions. For example, unions and agencies in Hollywood have worked to decrease the number of meetings occurring in “high-risk locations” such as hotel rooms or private homes, both of which were locations to which Weinstein would lure his victims. Further, distributors and streaming services have started adding morality clauses to their contracts which allow them to pull people off projects who are exposed of wrongdoing. Additionally, in the direct aftermath of the trials, there were increased efforts to hire more female writers — albeit primarily by female producers already in the industry. In contrast, male producers and all-male teams largely ignored this movement. However, since the beginning of the #MeToo Movement, the inclusion of women in Hollywood has continued on a generally upward trajectory. In fact, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that women made up 24% of behind-the-scenes employees in 2022’s top 250 grossing movies.
Thus, since Harvey Weinstein’s conviction and the start of the #MeToo movement, efforts are consciously and continuously being made to ensure equal and safe working conditions — although there’s still a long way to go.