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Criminal Justice

Harvey Weinstein Assaulted Women. His Lawyers Did the Same To His Accusers

Harvey Weinstein, looking haggard but wearing a suit, looks toward the camera while in court.
Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles in November.
(Etienne Laurent
Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
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That a Los Angeles jury convicted Harvey Weinsteinof rape is not in itself news, as he was found guilty of the same crime in New York two years ago. This week’s verdict is notable, however, for another reason: Weinstein’s trial revealed in a very public forum why survivors of sexual assaults are so hesitant to speak out.

There’s a legal maxim that springs from the U.S. Constitution that every defendant is entitled to representation, no matter how abhorrent the alleged crime or the person charged with committing it. It’s one thing to represent someone like Weinstein; it’s quite another to stoop to the tactics his lawyers employed during Weinstein’s L.A. trial.

Victim Shaming

Rape is the most underreported and under-prosecuted of all violent crimes, according to the Justice Department. It’s also the least likely violent crime to yield a conviction. And as was documented by both The New York Times and The New Yorker in their reporting about Weinstein, any woman who spoke out about his conduct would be blacklisted in Hollywood.

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And then there's what happens if a woman does press charges in a rape case. Consider what Weinstein’s lawyers did to Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who accused Weinstein of raping her 17 years ago (the jury deadlocked on charges tied to her testimony).

Newsom, who is married to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with an MBA from Stanford University. In his opening statement, defense attorney Mark Werksman called Newsom “just another bimbo” who slept with Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.

Mirroring The Assault

When she testified about her alleged assault, Werksman asked Newsom to replicate for the jury the moans she said she’d used to get Weinstein to stop. She declined.

Another woman, Jane Doe 1, whose case resulted in the three guilty verdicts, described an assault that in many ways mirrored the horror of Newsom’s alleged attack. The former actress said Weinstein forced his way inside her hotel room, bent her over a bathroom sink, and raped her.

“He asked me if I liked it,” she testified. “I wanted to die.”

Alan Jackson, in his cross-examination of Jane Doe 1, mocked her career, saying at one point, “You’re the only actor in history, since the Roman days, to not want to be successful as an actor?” He also quizzed her about Weinstein’s genitalia, and why she couldn’t exactly describe how they are deformed.

Bullying Tactics

After the verdicts, Newsom said in a statement, “Throughout the trial, Weinstein’s lawyers used sexism, misogyny, and bullying tactics to intimidate, demean, and ridicule us survivors. This trial was a stark reminder that we as a society have work to do. To all survivors out there — I see you, I hear you, and I stand with you.”

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Weinstein, meanwhile, issued a statement through a publicist saying he was "disappointed" in the rape conviction, but nevertheless continued the attack on Jane Doe 1, saying through spokesperson Juda Engelmayer that her testimony about the timing and location of Weinstein's raping her "make no sense."

Anita Hill chairs The Hollywood Commission, whose goals include eliminating harassment in the workplace. She, of course, is no stranger to being discredited and personally attacked after she testified about Clarence Thomas’ alleged sexual harassment.

“The Weinstein verdict is a much-needed indication of our commitment to justice and individual accountability,” Hill said in a statement. “Real progress toward safer and more equitable workplaces requires acknowledging the institutional practices and industry culture that tolerate abuse, discrimination, harassment and bullying.”

She was talking about the workplace.

She might as well have been talking about Weinstein’s downtown courthouse.

What questions do you have about film, TV, music, or arts and entertainment?
John Horn, entertainment reporter and host of our weekly podcast Retake, explores whether the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?