Harvey Weinstein verdict dispels the myth of the perfect rape victim

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Harvey Weinstein’s victims, and those who believe them, finally got their Hollywood ending.

On Monday, after nearly a week of deliberations, the jury returned their verdict: Guilty on two counts, rape and a criminal sex act. Weinstein, who spent his evenings and weekends throughout the trial partying, his days bantering with press and ignoring admonitions by his trial judge, was immediately remanded to jail.

He will likely never get out.

Can you recall a verdict, in recent memory, that felt like such a relief?

It’s hard to overstate how consequential this is — not just because Weinstein’s downfall ignited the #MeToo movement, nor because the outcome here felt determinative of the movement’s future.

This case hung on the testimony of two fallible women, each with her own complicated relationship with the now-fallen mogul, once so powerful he boasted of running not just Hollywood but New York City itself.

Would a jury of seven men and five women unanimously believe that Mimi Haleyi or Jessica Mann, two attractive women who dreamed of working in the entertainment industry, who then kept in affectionate contact with their alleged attacker for years, who asked him for favors and accepted his gifts, were actually victims of sexual assault?

For so many watching, it didn’t seem likely. I certainly didn’t think it was likely. But there may have been a clue in the sketch of the jury, looking at photos of a naked Weinstein, reacting in disgust and horror. The artist was sure to include, in the right hand corner, one juror casting his head upward and clenching his fist as if to say, “I can’t unsee it!”

Sir, your civic duty is appreciated.

Still, a defense attorney only needs to seed one juror with enough doubt. And this, the defense surely thought, was their slam dunk: On her third day of cross-examination, Mann testified she had sex with Weinstein in 2016, though she claimed he raped her in a Midtown Manhattan hotel 2013.

Harvey Weinstein and his lawyer Donna Rotunno (left)Getty Images

This testimony was just three weeks ago and only one day after Mann had such a severe panic attack on the stand she was removed.

“I do want the jury to know he is my rapist,” she said the next day.

And the jury believed her! They saw the subtext: There is no upside, zero, to offering such complex testimony in such a high-profile, high-stakes trial, to having their faces and names known globally, to recounting in graphic, humiliating detail things that were done to them and things they went on to do that could only redound terribly if Weinstein were acquitted.

And if that had been the outcome, who would have been blamed? Not just the prosecution, but these women who didn’t behave the way victims on TV and in movies do. In stories produced by men like Harvey Weinstein.

This jury, with this verdict — imperfect though it may be, finding Weinstein not guilty on two counts of predatory sexual assault — has shattered the notion that there is a perfect rape victim. A jury with more men than women realized that a victim of sexual assault, especially one who feels her attacker wields continuous, real-world power over her fate, might have reason to remain in contact with him, to have sex or profess love.

In the years since “grab them by the pussy” meant nothing, in a moment now where another presidential candidate shrugs off calling women “fat broads” and “horse-faced lesbians,” the Weinstein verdict is a corrective and an assurance. It reminds us that progress isn’t linear, but always worth the fight.

 

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