Feb 22, 2023
By Samuel Dordulian, Esq.
When the conviction of former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was announced on December 19, many media outlets were quick to note that the verdict was far from a clear-cut victory for survivors.
Although the conviction included one count each of rape, sexual penetration by foreign object, and forcible oral copulation, the jury acquitted Weinstein on the majority of the charges, including the felony sexual battery of a massage therapist, identified as Jane Doe #3. On charges involving two other accusers – Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Lauren Young – the jury was split, voting:
Headlines following the verdict noted that the jury felt ‘Nothing Was Black and White,’ with a report from Variety highlighting a feeling that many – particularly survivors of sexual assault – were likely grappling with:
“Survivors Fear Split Verdict in Harvey Weinstein’s L.A. Trial May Signal a Step Back for #MeToo.”
In an interview with Variety after the Weinstein conviction, I alluded to this issue:
“I think the #MeToo movement at one point was much stronger than it is now… The whole feeling of the #MeToo movement that if you come out in numbers, you will be believed – that didn’t pan out on this one.”
But I’d like to clarify that statement with a bit more context.
At face value, the Weinstein verdict may seem like a significant setback for #MeToo. Survivors of sexual assault may be more likely to conclude that they will not be believed, and therefore coming forward to report sexual predators is futile.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our criminal justice system is the best in the world because it demands that the prosecution bear the burden of proving that a defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. This notion of reasonable doubt is meant to ensure that defendants are not wrongfully convicted, with an understanding that it is in fact better to let the crimes of the guilty go unpunished than to condemn the innocent.
But it also means that a good defense attorney will do everything in his or her power to sow the seed of reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors. And in cases of sexual assault, where there often isn’t any physical evidence, a criminal conviction is always an uphill battle.
With that in mind, it’s important to analyze the Weinstein verdict in its totality. For example:
Moreover, the #MeToo Movement has caused a paradigm shift that was literally unthinkable only a few years ago.
Prior to #MeToo, no one would have predicted that powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, or Charlie Rose would be held accountable for their predatory behavior.
In the final analysis, the Weinstein verdict is a win for the #MeToo Movement, proving yet again that, even in difficult cases where reasonable doubt is a substantial hurdle, a conviction is possible.
However, it’s critical to remember that there are two forms of justice available to sexual assault survivors: criminal and civil.
All of the above mentioned criminal court victories do not account for the fact that Weinstein was also forced to pay a $19 million civil settlement to survivors in 2020 and a $17 million settlement in 2021. And that could be just the tip of the iceberg for Weinstein when it comes to his troubles in civil court.
New laws in California and New York open windows for survivors of sexual assault to sue predators such as Weinstein for financial damages related to things like emotional trauma, counseling expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, etc.
In California, AB 2777 revives claims for sex crimes occurring after January 1, 2009. Accordingly, survivors now have three years to file their civil lawsuits.
In New York, the Adult Survivors Act gives victims of sex crimes a one-year window to file claims.
The media have taken notice, reporting that a flood of civil actions are expected to be filed under these new laws which will help survivors secure the justice they deserve while making the predators who harmed them pay.
As a sexual assault attorney who started his career as a sex crimes prosecutor and now fights for survivors in civil court, I know all too well that there is one primary emotion which prevents people from getting justice: fear.
Survivors fear that they won’t be believed, that they will be ridiculed by the public, that their private lives will be exposed to scrutiny, and that their allegations will be unraveled by reasonable doubt.
But the greatest fear facing survivors of sexual assault should actually be silence – and that can only occur through inaction. Not continuing to come forward and report sex crimes – even those committed by the powerful – is the only way the #MeToo Movement can be weakened.
Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.
Samuel Dordulian is a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County with more than 25 years of experience helping survivors of sexual abuse and assault obtain justice. For more information on the new laws affording survivors of sexual assault an opportunity at civil justice, please visit our recent blogs.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.