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Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Eisele

Weinstein sentenced to 23 years in prison

Torsten Landsberg rf
March 11, 2020

Two and a half years after multiple instances of sexual misconduct came to light, a court in New York has sentenced the former film mogul Harvey Weinstein to 23 years. The revelations had triggered the #MeToo movement.


The announcement of the sentence on Wednesday not only ended a court trial. The verdict signifies success and, ideally, at least partial satisfaction for scores of women who claim to have been sexually harassed by Weinstein. It marks an interim conclusion to a dirty system of power, dependency and exploitation maintained by Weinstein for decades before it collapsed after media reports in 2017.

First, the New York Times reported on sexual harassment and hush money payments to women employees and actresses. A few days later, an article by Ronan Farrow was published in The New Yorker documenting several accounts by victims of sexual harassment and rape committed by Weinstein.

Following the reports, more than 100 women mustered the courage to identify themselves as sexual victims of the Hollywood mogul. Women who had rejected Weinstein came forward as well, reporting that they had consequently been excluded from film projects and that he had recommended other studios to discontinue hiring them. For their revelations, Farrow and the New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey won a Pulitzer Prize.

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
Uncovering the first stones, "New York Times" journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed Weinstein's predatory behaviorImage: Getty Images for Hearst Magazines/T. Wargo

An open secret

Theirs were the first substantial reports in the Weinstein affair, but they were long an open secret in Hollywood's entertainment industry. Female employees new to his production company were warned about the boss. Awards ceremonies and even TV series like 30 Rock and Action made clear references to his notorious casting couch. But not even established film stars dared to bring Weinstein's behavior to light.

After the scandal erupted, American actress Alyssa Milano established the hashtag #MeToo on Twitter and called on all women with similar experiences to come out in the open. Milano addressed Weinstein's victims and women worldwide who have experienced sexual harassment. In early 2018, more than 300 prominent women launched "Time's Up" to combat sexual harassment at the workplace. Geared toward women from other professions, the initiative offered legal support.

Within days of the revelations of October 2017, Weinstein's colleagues in the board of administrators deposed him as manager of the The Weinstein Company, source of The King's Speech, Django Unchained and other films. In March 2018, the company filed for bankruptcy.

A number of associations excluded Weinstein, including the film academies that award the Bafta British film prize, the TV Emmys and the Academy Awards. After revising its code of conduct in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, the latter evicted Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski from its ranks half a year later. Allegations against other celebrities went public, including Kevin Spacey, Placido Domingo and Asia Argento, herself a Weinstein accuser.

Drawing of Weinstein, a man at the witness stand and the jury
After seven weeks of proceedings against Weinstein in New York, the jury declared him guilty of rape and sexual assaultImage: Reuters/J. Rosenberg

Formulating guidelines to offer greater security, media and film unions advised against work appointments in hotel rooms. That is where Weinstein, often clad in a bathrobe, had hosted meetings with numerous women who became his victims.

Not long after the revelations, several probes were initiated. With many of the cases older than the statute of limitations, they couldn't be brought to court. In 2006, New York state had eliminated the period of limitation for sexual crimes committed after 2001, however, so Weinstein was taken to court there for offences against three women.

After being arraigned in May 2018, the then 66-year-old was released on a $1 million bail, later raised to $5 million. He was also required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and surrender his passport. The former producer's lawyers negotiated an out-of-court settlement with other victims, agreeing on payments for damages.

Depiction of a broken man

The trial in New York began after several delays on January 6, 2020. Weinstein appeared as a broken man, moving along with a walker after a back operation following a car accident. Many felt it looked like an act. He refused to take the stand in court. Because one of the three women accusers had made contradictory statements before the beginning of the trial, raising doubts about her credibility, only the accusations of the other two women were heard.

Female protestors in winter hold up a sign saying
Women and men worldwide joined the #MeToo movement Image: picture-alliance/Pacific Press/E. McGregor

During the proceedings, six witnesses related their experiences, sometimes in graphic detail. Their testimony created the picture of a man who had systematically exploited his position of power in the film industry to bend women to his will, forcing them to engage in sexual intercourse if they didn't consent. According to Weinstein's defense, every sexual act had been mutually consensual.

Sentenced to 23 years in prison

On February 24, 2020, the 12-member jury delivered a guilty verdict on two accounts: rape and sexual assault — but acquitted Weinstein of predatory sexual assault, which could have entailed a lifetime sentence. Weinstein has been in prison since the verdict was delivered, undergoing a minor operation after heart problems.

Before the sentencing, Weinstein's defense attorney asked the presiding judge to take her client's health and age into account and to consider five years in prison — the minimum required sentence — as reasonable. A convicted rapist, Weinstein now will have to serve a 23-year prison term. Judge James Burke ignored the pleas of Weinstein's defense team to give their client the minimum of five years behind bars.

The defense has announced that the verdict will be appealed, having accused the bench of bias during the trial.

A new trial in New York could run into scheduling conflicts: Just as the trial began there in early January, the state's attorney in Los Angeles charged Weinstein with alleged sex crimes. It is unclear whether he will be tried in Los Angeles as well.

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