The Weinstein verdict isn’t a judgment on #MeToo movement - GulfToday

The Weinstein verdict isn’t a judgment on #MeToo movement

Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein

Stuart Green, Tribune News Service

Closing arguments have now been made in the rape and sexual assault trial of Harvey Weinstein, the jury has been instructed and in the next week or so, we’ll have a verdict from the seven men and five women charged with deciding the case. The outcome, however, cannot be predicted with any certainty. Based on accounts of the evidence offered in the media, a conviction, an acquittal or a hung jury all seem like plausible outcomes.

For some observers, that uncertainty is likely to produce anxiety. This trial, some commentators have said, is about the fate or more than just one man. It is about the fate of the #MeToo movement itself. After all, it was revelations about Weinstein in October 2017 that sparked an almost instantaneous worldwide movement, with Weinstein appearing as the archvillain, and his accusers among its heroes.

Thus, the reasoning goes, if prosecutors are able to obtain a conviction of someone as powerful and prominent as Weinstein, the #MeToo movement will be vindicated; it will have all been worth it. But if a conviction proves elusive, whether because of an acquittal or a hung jury, then a powerful social movement will be, if not stopped in its tracks, at least slowed.

Let me suggest that everyone take a deep breath here.

Although the #MeToo movement was indeed triggered by the revelations of Weinstein’s alleged misconduct, it has long since transcended the Weinstein case. Whether Weinstein is convicted or acquitted, the #MeToo movement will remain a powerful social force. There is no going back on the social changes it has wrought. Whatever the trial’s outcome, men in positions of power will (or certainly should) think twice before propositioning their subordinates or making sex a quid pro quo for professional advancement; and either way, it will still take courage for accusers to come forward and testify against their alleged assailants.

Weinstein is only one of many tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of men (and some women) alleged since October 2017 to have engaged in a vast range of sexual misconduct. Neither a conviction nor an acquittal in his case tells us anything at all about the truth of these other allegations, or indeed about the other allegations against Weinstein not on trial here.

Criminal trials, moreover, are a world unto themselves. The standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The applicable rules of evidence are complex. The verdict must be unanimous. Juries are essentially black boxes; they have no obligation at all to tell us why they decide what they do.

If Weinstein is convicted, his prosecutors will be celebrated, their strategic choices (including the decision to bring the particular charges they did, rather than less serious charges) applauded. If he is acquitted, there is little doubt they will be criticised. Such an outcome may even affect the decision of Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance to seek re-election.

Might other women be less likely to come forward to testify if Weinstein is acquitted? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Deciding to testify about such traumatic experiences is never going to be easy, and it will not get any easier if Weinstein is convicted, either.

The outcome of the trial will obviously have a special significance for Weinstein himself and for the women directly harmed by his alleged acts. The same can be said for the others directly involved in the trial, including the lawyers on both sides, the judge, and the jurors. For the rest of us, the verdict should certainly be a matter of interest, but no more than that. Whatever the outcome of this particular trial, our social order has long since been swept up and rearranged by the broader waves of #MeToo.

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