On Feb. 24, a New York state jury found former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein guilty of criminal sexual assault in the first degree and rape in the third degree. The first charge carries a sentence of 5 to 25 years and the latter 0 to 4 years, allowing a total maximum sentence of 29 years, minimum five. Sentencing is set for March 11.
The trial was a grueling ordeal for the brave women who charged Weinstein. Defense lawyers berated and intimidated accusers Jessica Mann and Miriam Haley, at times bringing them to tears and at one point inducing a panic attack.
This kind of revictimization, where the victim is put on trial, all too often serves to maintain silence. Not wanting to relive the terror, most rape survivors do not even report their experience. For every 1,000 rapes, 230 are reported, 46 lead to arrest and nine — less than 1 percent! — result in a trial. (Vox, Feb. 26)
Some survivors seek relief through civil lawsuits. But Non-Disclosure Agreements — essentially gag rules — are often attached to the settlements of those suits. These serve to silence survivors and keep them isolated and unaware of one another.
The legal maxim “innocent until proven guilty” complicates matters for survivors, who most often do not have witnesses. But with 100-plus accusers, what more proof do you need in the case of Weinstein?
Yet presumption of innocence was the fallback position of his defense attorneys.
Weinstein’s lead attorney Donna Ratunno benefited in her career from the women’s liberation movement, which made it easier for women to enter male-dominated fields they had been excluded from. But Ratunno has allowed herself to be bought off, undermining the very movement that helped her advance.
But the women’s movement is alive and well. Protests in France, for example, inside and outside the César awards — the French equivalent of the Oscars — voiced outrage over the award given to director Roman Polanski, who remains unrepentant of his 1977 statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl.
Consciousness determined by being rich
Weinstein’s high-priced lawyers managed to get him acquitted of the more serious charges of predatory sexual assault and first-degree rape. Nevertheless this serial rapist, was stunned by the finding of partial guilt. He has been a captive of the capitalist mindset that money can buy anything.
That mindset did not develop in a vacuum. In fact, it is proof of the Marxist adage: “Being determines consciousness.” Ever since patriarchy’s origins during the shift from communal to private property, men of wealth have had a free hand to exploit “their” workers — economically and sexually.
In the Western Hemisphere, this goes back to the “discovery” and colonial theft of the Americas and the subsequent rape of Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2+ people. Slaveowning men raped their “property” as a matter of course. Working-class women are still sometimes forced to sleep with their bosses and/or their spouses’ bosses as an economic necessity.
As the Weinstein case exposed, this is even true of professionals seeking to launch a career in film — it’s commonly referred to as “the casting couch.” Now-famous women actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, Mira Sorvino, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o and Annabella Sciorra — the latter testifying at the trial — were among boss Weinstein’s many victims.
When the movie millionaire’s crimes were featured in the New York Times and the New Yorker in 2017, movement groups #MeToo and #TimesUp invited sexual abuse survivors to come forward. Thousands upon thousands posted accounts of harrowing experiences. This exposed the pervasiveness and brutality of patriarchal oppression.
“Me too” became a rallying cry in the struggle to end sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual abuse is a labor issue, every bit as important as winning living wages, decent health care and safe working conditions. Workers have made it a strike issue, targeting McDonald’s, Google and other multibillion-dollar companies.
Me Too was actually founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke to empower African-American women and girls who survived abuse. After the verdict, Burke pointed out: “This case reminds us that sexual violence thrives on unchecked power and privilege. The implications reverberate far beyond Hollywood and into the daily lives of all of us in the rest of the world.
“Whether you are an office worker, a nanny, an assistant, a cook, a factory worker — we all have to deal with the spectre of sexual violence derailing our lives.
“And, though today a man has been found guilty, we have to wonder whether anyone will care about the rest of us tomorrow. This is why we say MeToo.” (Variety, Feb. 24)
And Workers World Party says, “We too.” We will not rest until sexual violence, abuse and exploitation are banished from the Earth.