Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for first degree sexual assault and third degree rape. It’s a moment worth celebrating, as the antagonistic face of the #MeToo movement is finally held accountable for his actions.
Judge James Burke handed down the the sentence on Wednesday morning. The sexual assault charge carried a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 25, while the rape charge carried the possibility of 18 months to four years. [By ordering that the sentences be served consecutively, rather than concurrently, Judge Burke has attempted to honor the multiple victims and emphasize the severity of the crimes.] Additionally, Weinstein must register as a sex offender.
Weinstein’s predatory behavior first became public in 2017, when the New York Times found he’d been paying off sexual harassment accusers for decades. Notably, several women chose to be named in the article, among them Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan. Their bravery opened the floodgates, and soon many, many others came forward. Over the last three years, Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by around 90 women, while an additional 15 women have accused him of rape.
Weinstein felt the social consequences long before he faced any legal jeopardy. He was fired from The Weinstein Company, his wife left him, and when he did venture out into public, he was confronted by appalled and angry women. Yet at times it still seemed as if he would escape justice. He initially agreed to a $44 million settlement with victims, but when all was said and done, only $25 million went to the victims, and all of it was paid by insurance companies instead of the perpetrator himself.
Weinstein’s indictment on rape charges allowed only an uneasy relief. The statute of limitations had run out on the bulk of his misconduct, and so many of his accusers wouldn’t have the satisfaction of hearing their cases in court. In the end, he was indicted on just two counts of predatory sexual assault, two counts of rape, and one of sexual assault in the first degree — a few cups of water out of the vast ocean of his crimes.
As the trial began, Harvey Weinstein hobbled to his seat with the help of a medical walker — the effect of all the stress on his health, perhaps, or a bit of theatrical fakery to gin up sympathy. During his trial, Harvey Weinstein came across as unrepentant and disdainful of the court. He used his cellphone during proceedings, even after being warned by the judge, and he spent his off-hours giving bizarre interviews casting himself as a feminist hero.
Then, right before sentencing, court observers were treated to a final twist: The jury told the judge they were hung on two counts, specifically the charges of predatory sexual assault that carried a potential life sentence. This juror disagreement put the whole proceedings in danger of mistrial. After a few stern words from Judge Burke, and notice from the prosecution that they would not accept a partial verdict, the jury finally came to a consensus. On February 24th, 2020, Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of the first-degree sexual assault of Miriam Haley and rape in the third degree of Jessica Mann.
That he was convicted at all is a testament to powerful statements from Haley, a former Project Runway assistant, and aspiring actress Jessica Mann. Mann’s testimony was particularly detailed, including the news that Weinstein had no testicles. They were the last links in a long chain of women who together put Weinstein behind bars.
Hours after his conviction, Weinstein announced he was suffering from chest pains and was immediately escorted to a Bellevue Hospital. He managed to spend ten days there, before moving to less-comfortable accommodations on Rikers Island. He returned there shortly after his sentencing today, and while he may move from institution to institution, he will spend the next 23 years in one cell or another. [Since he is already 67 years old, that may constitute a life sentence.]
To some, even that will not sound long enough. But his legal troubles are far from over; Weinstein is still facing four charges of rape and sexual assault in Los Angeles, carrying possible penalties of another 28 years. Then there is the civil suit brought by former model Kaja Sokola, who filed an underaged sexual assault lawsuit against Weinstein in December. His conviction in this case may be used in the future to establish a pattern of behavior. The odds have never been higher that Weinstein will die penniless in prison.
Most of Weinstein’s victims will never have their experiences validated in court. But altogether these brave women told a story that was impossible to ignore. In doing so, they toppled one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood and brought a notorious sexual predator to his knees. Together, they have set an example that has exposed entrenched abusers in almost every industry around the globe.
The world isn’t magically a better place today, and the ideals behind the #MeToo movement will require more work to achieve. But when history books mark these years, they will note the importance of this trial. Symbolically, at least, and hopefully in practice, it’s the end of a chapter of abuse and neglect, and the beginning of a new era of accountability and justice.