Equal and Exact Justice

Moira Donegan · The Weinstein Trial

A dense crowd of reporters surrounded the women on the damp pavement across the street from the criminal courthouse in lower Manhattan. It was the first day of Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial, and some of his most famous accusers had come outside to address the cameras. In the scrum, iPhones were extended upwards to record the women’s statements; boom mics hung overhead. Rosanna Arquette stepped up to the microphone. She has accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her in a meeting. ‘These abusers make it unsafe for women to go to work every morning, to take a business meeting, to report a crime without retaliation,’ she said. ‘We are here to ensure that the focus of the criminal case is on the perpetrator – the perpetrator’s actions and not his victims.’ She was interrupted by a shout from the back of the crowd: a brief fistfight had broken out, as two cameramen jostled for the same shot of Arquette.

More than a hundred women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, but he is on trial in New York on five charges, based on the accusations of two women: one, a production assistant, says that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex in 2006; the another, anonymous, says that he raped her in 2013. Other investigations against the producer are being pursued in Los Angeles and London, and the New York prosecutors interviewed dozens of women who accused Weinstein of sexual abuse, finding plenty of credible stories. But many of the incidents occurred too long ago, or outside New York’s jurisdiction; others had to be discarded when the police were found to have mishandled their investigations. Weinstein’s lawyers are expected to emphasise police misconduct: unusually for a criminal trial, only the defence team, and not the prosecution, is expected to call police officers as witnesses.

Still other accusers refused to file charges or to come forward publicly, fearing the consequences. A centerpiece of Weinstein’s defence strategy has been to try to smear and discredit his accusers. His lawyers plan to produce correspondence from both women, showing they kept in touch with Weinstein after the alleged assaults; their communications include smiley emojis and requests for business meetings. But this makes the accusers typical of sexual assault victims, not unusual: most people who are sexually abused know their attackers, and most maintain relationships with them long after the assaults take place.

For many of those following the case, however, its emotional resonance lies less in the details of the specific accusations than in all that Weinstein has come to symbolise: the impunity of powerful men, the pervasiveness of sexual violence, and the harm they do to women. There is a reason that the revelations about Weinstein published in the New York Times and the New Yorker set off such a flurry of allegations against other men. Every woman knows someone like Weinstein: a man whose power was matched only by his contemptible character, whose actions never seemed to have consequences, whose ability to hurt women underscored their relative powerlessness and unimportance. As well as an examination of the facts of these two particular cases, Weinstein’s trial is a measure of whether official mechanisms can be made to answer to women’s anger and pain.

If Weinstein is acquitted, it will confirm the lesson that the feminist movement has learned, painfully, over and over again, from the election of Donald Trump as president despite the Access Hollywood tape, to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice despite the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford: that institutions will fail to punish men’s sexual abuse of women whenever they do not outright reward it.

If Weinstein is convicted and sent to prison, victims of sexual abuse will be given a rare and much-needed institutional acknowledgment that what happened to them was wrong. But even then, the injustices he has come to symbolise will not go away.

Outside the courthouse on Monday, a group of maybe a dozen, mostly older women had gathered below the steps to the entrance, holding protest signs. They were representatives of various feminist groups, including the National Organisation for Women, the Silence Breakers and Time’s Up. ‘I stand with survivors,’ one sign said. ‘Codify consent,’ said another. The police ushered the women into a fenced-off area, but they broke out and arranged their signs in front of the cameras. Their presence annoyed some passing commuters. ‘Oh Jesus H. Christ,’ said one white-haired man clutching a briefcase. Another man outright mocked them, reading their signs aloud in a taunting, contemptuous sing-song. Rose McGowan, another Weinstein accuser, was giving a statement in the middle of the scrum. ‘We are free. We are beautiful. We are strong,’ she said. A guffaw of male laughter shot up behind her.

The criminal court building in lower Manhattan is large and imposing, composed of four linked towers in beige granite and limestone. Like other New York City municipal buildings, its façade is etched with the words of the Founding Fathers. Near the way into the court where Weinstein is being tried, there is a quotation from Thomas Jefferson, carved into the stone in three-foot letters: ‘Equal and Exact Justice to All Men of Whatever State or Persuasion.’ Men.


  • 7 January 2020 at 9:03pm
    Andrea Breen says:
    ‘Equal and Exact Justice to All Men of Whatever State or Persuasion.’ Men.

    Says it all really.
    Women exist and we have:
    lives voices feelings resilience knowledge talent bodies strategies songs histories futures creativity capacity force determination minds skills acumen ...

  • 8 January 2020 at 2:08pm
    Marmaduke Jinks says:
    “If Weinstein is acquitted, it will confirm the lesson that the feminist movement has learned, painfully, over and over again, ...that institutions will fail to punish men’s sexual abuse of women whenever they do not outright reward it.”

    Or it could mean he’s not guilty of course.

    • 8 January 2020 at 3:09pm
      Eddie says: @ Marmaduke Jinks
      Yes, the "article" is absolutely outrageous and undermines any concept of innocence before proof of guilt. 5 years ago it would not have been printed and rightly so but we are no longer a liberal society unfortunately.

  • 9 January 2020 at 1:50pm
    Reader says:
    Jinks and Stacemeister are correct that we should not determine guilt or innocence in advance of the full airing of evidence, including the defence case, at the trial. However, if one takes this view one should also take the view that it is wrong to determine the sentence in advance of a trial. And it is wrong to pass the death sentence in those circumstances. From which it follows that the killing of Qassim Sulaimani and countless other people by the United States was illegal.

    I am not taking a stand on the rightness or wrongness of killing Sulaimani. The world is a safer place without him, in my view. But we in the West have, or are supposed to have, certain standards. It seems to me that the decision to compromise these in the war against terrorism has done unacknowledged damage to our moral attitudes more generally.

    • 9 January 2020 at 4:59pm
      Marmaduke Jinks says: @ Reader
      You make a good point.
      But don’t forget that sentence has, in fact, already been passed on Weinstein too. Regardless of the outcome of his trial I think it’s safe to say that he will never work again, nor be admitted to, ahem, “polite” society.
      The mob has spoken.

    • 10 January 2020 at 7:47am
      steve kay says: @ Marmaduke Jinks
      You certainly make a point, Marmaduke. If only the LRB had a blog years ago, comments could have been made about the judgemental press reporting of Fred and Rose West before the final verdict, and indeed anything about Jeremy Thorpe should have been erased when he was declared to be innocent. Remarks about Jimmy Saville are wholly unjustified now that he has gone up to the great studio in the sky, and as for Rev Fletcher and a reference to Bishop Peter Ball in the current Private Eye, all this sort of stuff should be kept covered up.

      Marmaduke, I take it that you are not female, and did not have the misfortune to be sent to boarding school, so lucky you, and may you enjoy polite society.

    • 12 January 2020 at 11:18am
      Marmaduke Jinks says: @ steve kay
      I don’t know what my being public school educated or being female or not has to do with it but the rest of your points are well made

    • 18 January 2020 at 4:55pm
      HankUS says: @ Marmaduke Jinks
      All of the women who constitute the "mob" are lying??

  • 11 January 2020 at 1:27pm
    Norman Ravitch says:
    Please permit me to be very skeptical of the METOO movement. It attempts to deal with the problem as old as civilization, the subjugation of women to the sexual desires of men. We have never found a solution. Some suggest a better way of raising boys but that seems unlikely to work since their fathers are part of the problem. The legal actions against people like HARVEY WEINSTEIN are justified but I suspect that men will simply conclude that it gives women the ability to accuse men falsely for their own purposes. Thus nothing is achieved. Only God would have a solution, if he existed however,

  • 12 January 2020 at 2:55pm
    Graucho says:
    Since it is agreed that sex took place and it is alleged that career advancement was involved, the court will have to decide if what took place was rape or prostitution. One hopes that the decision will be evidence based.

  • 13 January 2020 at 12:29pm
    Norman Ravitch says:
    The Washington Post today (13 Jan.) notes that the Women's March of 21 Jan., 2017 vs. Trump is moribund. How little dedication we have, men or women, to support what is right. Back to out mundane concerns as the world goes to hell.

  • 16 January 2020 at 9:29pm
    Norman Ravitch says:
    Perhaps if women followed moral standards as rigorous as those they want for men they would be believed more easily.

  • 16 January 2020 at 9:31pm
    Norman Ravitch says:
    An equal opportunity skeptic I no more expect integrity and truth from women than from men.

  • 21 January 2020 at 10:41pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    I don’t think I’ve ever read such a feckless, ostrich-like, illogical, and smarmy set of comments on the LRB blog site before. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a courtroom concept, not a credible guideline for journalists or commentators. We are all aware of “guilty, though found innocent” cases, sometimes based on incompetent prosecution, legal technicalities (for good or ill, this standard should keep its standing in law), or the actual fix being in. Then, Marmaduke and Steve Kay think we shouldn’t be allowed to even mention the foul deeds of those who escaped their day in court thanks to dying at an opportune moment (Jimmy Saville is on his list of those who should not be allowed to be posthumously defamed). This is downright bizarre. By analogy, historians should refrain from value judgments about the life and deeds of Adolf Hitler (or Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot) because he never had his “day in court” (if applying English and American judicial ideas, it would be interesting to know who a “jury of his peers” might be—obviously a shrewd defense attorney would argue for a jury of dictators; failing that, no jury possible, charges dismissed) . Norman Ravitch takes us into the realm of what used to be called “therapeutic nihilism” (correct diagnosis is the main thing, effective treatment—well, who knows?), i.e., in this case the arguments of many in the MeToo movement might be right in individual cases (resulting in prosecutions), but nothing will change anyway, because men themselves can’t be changed in their attitudes or behavior. And yet, men and women changing their attitudes and behavior in response to various kinds of social pressure (or ethical norms) happens all the time. What is up with this braying host of “fair-minded” men who wish to avoid the horrible “mob”? I’m skeptical of their claims in this respect, since they can be seen to be actually mobbing Ms. Donegan. Eek, what a passel of pusillanimous ninnies!

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