#MeToo 'is bigger than one man': How the Harvey Weinstein trial impacts the movement

The trial of Harvey Weinstein is seen as a significant milestone since the #MeToo movement was launched two years ago. Whether he's ultimately found guilty or acquitted, many activists say the movement is much bigger than this one particular case.

Former movie producer's trial on rape and predatory sexual assault charges began this week

Former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is facing charges of first- and third-degree rape, two counts of predatory sexual assault and one count of a criminal sexual act. (Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press)

This story is part of #MeToo 2020, a CBC News series examining what's changed since the start of the #MeToo movement two years ago and how the trial of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein will affect the future of the movement.

For Montreal actress Erika Rosenbaum, who is among the dozens of women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct and abuse, his trial is an important moment in our culture, as he represents the beginning of the #MeToo movement. 

Although Weinstein, once one of the most powerful figures in the film industry, has gone from power broker to pariah, he still needs to face real justice in the courtroom, she said.

"I don't think that we can ... say that justice is served until he is actually held accountable legally," she said.

Rosenbaum is part of the group Time magazine named the Silence Breakers and declared Persons of the Year in 2017, individuals who went public with their allegations of sexual harassment and assault and helped inspire the #MeToo movement.

She says an acquittal of Weinstein would be a huge disappointment, but she also believes the movement ignited by the accusations against the movie mogul has become bigger than one man.

"To say it would be a huge setback — I think it's minimizing the movement. I think that this is bigger than one person. I think that this is bigger than one industry. I think this is just part of the story."

'Minimizing the movement'

The "Me Too" movement actually began in 2006, founded by activist Tarana Burke, who used the term for survivors of sexual violence, particularly black women and girls. But it became a viral hashtag in October 2017 when, about a week after the New York Times published its bombshell report on Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano asked her Twitter followers: "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet."

Thousands of women responded to her tweet, relaying their own experiences of harassment and abuse. 

"He put #MeToo on the map, a movement that has taken over the country and the world," said reporter and actress Lauren Sivan, part of a group of Silence Breakers and Weinstein accusers who appeared outside the Manhattan courthouse on the first day of Weinstein's trial on Monday.

The trial is a "cultural reckoning," said actress Sarah Ann Masse. And regardless of its legal outcome, she said, it is a victory to see "Weinstein and the systems that have protected him for decades held accountable."

The 67-year-old former Hollywood producer is facing charges of first- and third-degree rape, two counts of predatory sexual assault and one count of a criminal sexual act, based on the accusations of two women. He has also been accused by dozens of other women of sexual misconduct that dates back decades.

He has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex. When CBC News recently asked representatives of Weinstein for his response to some of the allegations that have been made against him, they replied via email: "Neither Mr. Weinstein, nor his representatives will be making any comments on these matters. I hope you can remain objective."

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

Rosenbaum, the Montreal actress, said despite the personal setback that would result from an acquittal, the #MeToo movement has become "a bell that cannot be unrung."

"I think that women are going to continue to come forward and hold the men who step out of line accountable."

Kristen Houser, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania-based National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said the #MeToo movement has grown so far beyond the Weinstein case that she hates to link them.

"Ultimately, this is one case, and what the #MeToo movement has shown us is that there are tens of thousands just like it."

Houser also doesn't believe a guilty verdict or acquittal will necessarily have a big impact on other women coming forward with their own allegations of sexual misconduct.

People make decisions about whether to come forward based on their first-hand knowledge of their local communities, the resources available, all the while weighing whether anything will come of making a report, she said.

"What happens to Weinstein might influence a handful, but for most people, they're looking at their social circle, their employers, their family," Houser said.

Actress Rosanna Arquette speaks at a news conference outside a Manhattan courthouse after Harvey Weinstein arrived. Behind her are, left to right, Louise Godbold, Dominique Huett, Sarah Ann Masse, Paula Williams, Rose McGowan and Lauren Sivan, actresses who have accused Weinstein of sexual abuse. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

Sharyn Tejani, director of the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, an organization that helps connect women who have faced workplace sexual harassment with legal representation, said the Weinstein case has certainly been very important in shining a light on issues like the use of non-disclosure agreements, which often keep allegations against powerful people hidden.

In 2017, the New York Times reported some women with allegations against Weinstein received payouts in return for signing confidentiality clauses and keeping quiet.

'That's historic'

But what's truly historic, she said, is what has been established as a result of the movement. 

"The creation of things like the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, and all of these people coming forward, people talking about sexual harassment, what was created by the Silence Breakers coming forward. That's historic," Tejani said.

It has been the catalyst for really significant change in the area of sexual harassment, she said.

Since the #MeToo movement started, her organization has received requests for assistance from almost 4,000 people and has funded 18 outreach grants to groups that work with low-wage workers to help them learn about workplace sexual harassment and what they can do about it.

"People who are not headline-making," she said.

As well, 15 states have passed laws that have expanded workplace sexual harassment protections, she said.

"This is bigger than one man. This is about a movement and it has changed how we're doing our workplace stuff," Tejani said. "It has caused so many people to come forward. This is bigger than one case and that movement will keep going forward."


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from Carmen Merrifield