Clémence Michallon, The Independent
It’s not often that you hear from Harvey Weinstein these days. He’s been mostly silent during his criminal trial, save for occasional comments to reporter outside the courtroom and an email to The New York Times in January. But on Wednesday, right before Judge James Burke sentenced him to 23 years in prison, Weinstein did a rare thing: he spoke up. In person.
Hearing his voice inside the courtroom, where I have been reporting from over a number of weeks, was eerie. Sitting in a wheelchair at the front of the courtroom, he spoke in a low tone, slow at first, then growing more animated.
So what did Weinstein say, when he finally broke his silence – in front of the man who’d rule on whether he’d get closer to five or 29 years behind bars?
Well, first of all, Weinstein – who has been found guilty of a criminal sexual act and of third-degree rape – said he felt “remorse for this situation”. That remorse, it rapidly turned out, appeared to be mainly due to the fact that other men would now also be accused and perhaps convicted of sex crimes.
“Thousands of men are losing due process. I’m worried about this country,” Weinstein told the court. “I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.”
This was later echoed by his lawyer Donna Rotunno, who told reports outside the courtroom: “Harvey, I think, is very confused. I think he feels very sad. I think he believed he had relationships with women that were different than the way they are now characterizing them.”
This was an interesting choice of rhetoric, especially since it came after two powerful victim impact statements from Mimi Haleyi, who Weinstein has been convicted of assaulting in 2006, and Jessica Mann, who he’s been found guilty of raping. The contrast between Weinstein’s statement — in which he appeared remorseful only to the extent that his case has put other men in tricky situations and impacted his own loved ones — and the victim impact statements — in which Haleyi and Mann spoke at length of the impact of trauma on their own lives and on our culture at large — was stark.
In his remarks, Weinstein, echoing his defence team, also claimed he had raised a lot of money for charity over the years — mainly for 9/11 first responders — and the public might have a different view of him if they spoke to the people who had benefited. This line of defence struck most of us as little more than a problematic non-sequitur. And evidently, it did little to sway Judge Burke, who – after reminding Weinstein he’d have to register as a sex offender – handed him close to the maximum sentence available.
Wednesday’s hearing was a key opportunity for Mann and Haleyi to make their voice heard as survivors and not, as they’ve been referred to in earlier stages of the trial, as accusers. Covering the Weinstein trial has been, at times, hard. As journalists, we’re told to distance ourselves from events we report on. It is, we’re told, the only way to get the work done – the only way to remain neutral. But empathy is a key part of what we do, and you can only remove yourself from a situation so much before the work begins to suffer. Trauma is a topic that is deeply personal for so many of us. It’s impossible – and, I believe, inadvisable – to keep your own heart out of the equation entirely.
Back when this all began in January, it seemed utterly impossible to predict the outcome of the proceedings. It still felt surreal to walk out of court this morning feeling like we had witnessed the final twist in this saga (well, final to a degree – Weinstein’s team has made it clear it will appeal the New York verdict).
There was once a time, just two short years ago, before “Weinstein clauses” and “Weinstein taxes,” before “intimacy coordinators” and “disgrace insurance.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told reporters afterward that the judge "sent a message today that this type behavior is something that any potential offender is going to have to consider. The judge took it seriously, which is exactly how we think he should have. And we're grateful."
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