Why women like me are shocked Harvey Weinstein was actually found guilty
Trigger warning: This story discusses rape and sexual assault.
Today Harvey Weinstein, a once-powerful medial mogul and Hollywood executive, was found guilty of rape in the third degree and criminal sexual activity in the first degree. Victim testimony was treated as evidence in the case, so the verdict is notably significant—and surprising, considering the sitting president of the United States stands accused of sexual assault, harassment, and rape by over 25 women yet has faced little-to-no consequence. Women came forward, some decades after the abuse they endured, and it mattered. They mattered. And now their abuser is going straight to jail.
So, as a victim of rape, I shouldn’t feel surprised, just happy. And the most hopeful, most optimistic part of me, is—for Weinstein’s victims, for the survivors who are forced to experience justice vicariously through the less than 1% of rape cases that lead to a felony conviction, and for the small yet undeniably significant change in a culture that has historically and systemically protected the abuser instead of the abused that Weinstein’s conviction signifies.
But I cannot let out a sigh of relief. I cannot think “finally” and relax my shoulders, which have been tense since news of Weinstein’s conviction was first reported. I cannot ignore the pit in my stomach, my increased heart rate, or the anger that is slowly, but surely, forming inside of me. Because while this very public conviction of a now notorious serial abuser and rapist is monumental in many respects, the fact that it is monumental at all is a dark, indisputable mark against the society in which we live.
I was raped by [redacted name] on [redacted date] during a work retreat in Portland, Oregon. Like many of Weinstein’s victims, I signed a non-disclosure agreement, so there are details of my assault that I cannot reveal. Like Weinstein (until today), my abuser is protected by a culture that fortifies already powerful people as they wield their influence with impunity. So like many of Weinstein’s victims, I am sure, I did not expect a guilty verdict. In fact, I felt like I knew he would be found not guilty—free to return to the privileged life he built on the backs of the women he abused.
A few days before the Weinstein verdict was delivered, jurors asked if they could be hung on the most serious of charges. This, among many other reasons, is why I am far from the only person who felt surprised when the guilty verdict was handed down—so many of us were shocked to learn that a man of such wealth and influence would be held accountable for his actions. false
Our collective shock is another reminder that rape culture exists.
Rapists walking free is considered the norm, the expected outcome, the presumed end to a victim taking the stand and reliving one of the most painful, most dehumanizing moments of their life in detail.
I called the police the night of my assault—I sat, shaking, across from an overtired detective less than 20 minutes after [redacted name] forced himself on top and inside of me. I endured a 5-hour rape kit; stood naked in front of a forensic photographer so the bruises on my breasts, wrists, and thighs could be documented; stared at the ceiling while a nurse swabbed the inside of my vagina. And, over a year later, I was told the District Attorney didn’t believe there was sufficient evidence to ensure a guilty verdict.
The only non-surprising part of today’s news is that Weinstein was acquitted of the most heinous charges that carried the most significant amount of jail time—two counts of predatory sexual assault and first-degree rape. For so many of us who know what it’s like for our humanity to be debated in the court of public opinion—for comments like “he said, she said” to define our trauma, and for our worth to be measured in units of what is “believable”—today is another exercise in one step forward, two steps back. To me, Weinstein’s conviction is just another bone thrown survivors’ way: it is not insignificant by any stretch of the imagination, and can even be delicious for a passing moment, but it is nowhere near good enough. We are given morsels of justice and told to be grateful, all the while we’re left hungry and begging for more.
That is why, now that the shock of a guilty verdict has subsided, I can’t say I find any solace in Weinstein’s conviction. Much like in the days, weeks, months, and immediate years following my own rape, the only amount of solace I am finding is in the reaction and presence of my fellow survivors—some of whom I know and many of whom I do not. It is a cruel comfort, and in a perfect world there wouldn’t be so many of us to lean on. In fact, we are told we need to speak up, despite the damage our truth will surely cause ourselves, our loved ones, and our reputations, so that there won’t be so many of us in the future. And I truly wish the club we all joined when our humanity was ignored wasn’t so large.
But it will continue growing—more and more of us forced to suffer in silence, or speak out to our own detriment—until we address the rape culture we are all living in and are subjected to.
The problem was always bigger than Weinstein, and requires more than just Weinstein’s incarceration.
Until we do the work of eradicating the “boys will be boys” excuses, the “why did she wait so long?” accusations, the “men can’t be raped” ignorance, and the “what was she wearing?” victim-blaming, for every Weinstein conviction there will continue to be countless anonymous abusers, unscathed, unaccountable, and free. Still, I am thankful for the knowledge that I am not alone. Not in my pain. Not in my trauma. And not in my anger, because while Weinstein deserves to go to prison, all of us deserve better.
If you are a sexual assault survivor and need help, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to speak to a trained counselor. You can also chat online with a counselor here. Both services are available 24/7.