Entertainment

Weinstein verdict hailed as significant step in #MeToo movement, but fight 'far from over'

Although a New York jury found former producer Harvey Weinstein guilty of rape and sexual assault, many activists caution that the fight to fix a 'broken system' continues.

Weinstein found guilty of 2 charges, acquitted on more serious charges

Montreal actress Erika Rosenbaum came forward with allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017. (Susan Mckenzie/CBC)

Montreal actress Erika Rosenbaum, one of the dozens of women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct and abuse, had braced for a not guilty verdict, believing his status, power and wealth would help him evade justice.

So she was "floored" when she learned on Monday that a New York jury had found the former film producer guilty of rape and sexual assault.

"It really is the system changing. It really was a criminal system saying, 'We believe you,'" said Rosenbaum, who is part of the the Silence Breakers group, individuals who went public with their allegations of sexual harassment and assault and helped inspire the #MeToo movement.

The jury of seven men and five women took five days to find Weinstein guilty of raping an aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting production assistant Mimi Haley at his apartment in 2006 by forcibly performing oral sex on her.

He was acquitted on the most serious charges, two counts of predatory sexual assault, each of which carried a sentence of up to life in prison. Both of those counts hinged on the testimony of Sopranos actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein barged into her apartment, raped her and forcibly performed oral sex on her in the mid-1990s. 

The jury also acquitted Weinstein of first-degree rape, which requires the use of force or the threat of it.

Actress Erika Rosenbaum is one of the nearly 100 women who came forward and accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. She tells us CBC News that Weinstein's guilty verdict is a win for survivors but also the #MeToo movement. 4:52

"I know it wasn't perfect," Rosenbaum told CBC News. "He wasn't convicted on all five charges, but it really was a new day for survivors. And I think everybody watching feels like this was a win in a big way for the #MeToo movement and survivors everywhere."

'A powerful message'

Indeed, many activists hailed the verdict as a significant achievement for the movement, which began in 2006 but became a viral hashtag in October 2017 after the New York Times published its bombshell report on Weinstein.

It's a "watershed moment, a historic leap for the #MeToo movement," said actress Rosanna Arquette, one of a group of Silence Breakers who held a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

"Now we know that if we dare to speak, there is a far greater chance that we will be heard and our abusers will be punished," said Arquette, who has also accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

Several women who spoke up against Harvey Weinstein said his guilty verdict was a 'triumph' and a sign of changing attitudes. 0:53

Tina Tchen, president and CEO of the Time's Up Foundation, said the verdict is an "historic moment" and "marks a new era of justice."

"The jury's verdict sends a powerful message to the world of just how much progress has been made since the Weinstein Silence Breakers ignited an unstoppable movement," she said.

 

Rosenbaum said it should also help other women come forward, knowing that their voice matters, and that no amount of money or power will erase that.

"I think it does send a powerful message that men who sexually assault women or harass women in the workplace, regardless of how powerful or wealthy they are, are going to be held accountable," said Laura Noble, a North Carolina-based employment lawyer.

Jessica Mann, left, and Miriam Haley, are among Weinstein's accusers. (Getty Images; The Associated Press)

"That's a very positive change that we've seen as a result of the advocates and victims of the #MeToo movement."

Lingering disappointment

While hailing the verdict, some people have expressed regret that Weinstein was not convicted on all charges. The Silence Breakers put out a statement on Monday noting that while Weinstein will forever be known as a "convicted sexual predator," "it was disappointing that today's outcome does not deliver the true, full justice that so many women deserve."

They said the process also exposed the difficulties women face in coming forward to tell the truth. "Our fight is far from over," the statement said. 

Halifax legal scholar Wayne MacKay told the Canadian Press that the "mixed verdict" may come as a disappointment to some #MeToo supporters, because it doesn't account for the full breadth of Weinstein's alleged pattern of predatory behaviour.

"I think the predatory sexual assault [charges] best captured that kind of problem," said MacKay, a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University's law school. "The fact that they did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that he engaged in that is what's disappointing."

Weinstein will be sentenced in March. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

The Atlantic's Megan Garber, who followed the trial from the beginning and who writes about the #MeToo movement, told CBC's Front Burner podcast that the verdict reflected a broader feeling "of 'Yes, we believe the women, but not fully.'"

Others said it was a mistake to put too much emphasis on one verdict.

"This is not a signal that our systems and institutions are magically transformed," said Sonia Ossorio, the president of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women. "This is one case, one man. We've got to keep it in perspective."

Tchen said the fight to "fix the broken system that has allowed serial abusers like Harvey Weinstein to abuse women in the first place continues."

With files from The Associated Press