The MeToo movement may have just gained its most important victory to date this week as one of the most prolific and high-profile sexual predators in Hollywood has finally faced justice.
Harvey Weinstein was once one of the powerful people in the film industry, but on Monday he left a New York city court a convicted felon. Found guilty of third-degree rape and first-degree sexual assault by a jury of seven men and five women, after five days of deliberations. Weinstein faces a minimum of five years in prison that could be extended to a maximum of twenty-five years; however, he was acquitted on two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carried a potential life sentence. Weinstein’s crimes ignited the MeToo movement in 2017, which saw thousands of sexual assault victims finally opening up and sharing their own stories of sexual abuse. It was a little over two years ago that the New York Times first published an article detailing allegations of sexual assault against the then celebrated movie producer. Since then around 80 women have come forward and accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct and assault stretching back decades.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. held a press conference after the verdict was known and commented that ‘this was the new landscape for survivors of sexual assault in America I believe’.
The verdict left many contemplating the impact Weinstein’s conviction will have going forward. Will this encourage more victims to speak out about their ordeals? Do institutions, companies, and governments have more to do to safeguard victims and help bring perpetrators to justice? Has the MeToo movement changed the way we see victims of sexual violence? It is impossible to answer all these questions in one article, so I looked at how Weinstein’s conviction and the expansion of the MeToo movement has or potentially could impact the student community here in St Andrews.
It is no secret that sexual assault and misconduct is an ongoing issue within higher education institutions. A study conducted by The Student Room and Revolt Sexual Assault in 2017/18 found that 62% of students and recent graduates in the UK had experienced some form of sexual misconduct or violence during their time at university, with only 6% of students reporting these incidents to their university or local police force. When the study inquired why they had not reported these crimes 56% ‘thought it wasn’t serious enough’, 35% ‘felt too ashamed’ and 29% ‘didn’t know how to make a report’. This study clarifies that the stigma that prevents many sexual assault victims from discussing and reporting their crimes is still prevalent within student communities across the country. I wondered what the Weinstein verdict meant to those students here in St Andrews that work to address that stigma.
I spoke to St Andrews Feminist Society President Taylor Hendrickson and asked her what she thought the significance of this conviction means for the wider call for justice.
‘It could be a turning point, but we will see. It is a moment of a lot of hope and optimism for a lot of people because obviously the MeToo movement sort of gained momentum around the Weinstein case, and it’s really nice to see someone who has been accused of assaulting and harassing over 80 women be held accountable, even if it’s limited.’ (Taylor Hendrickson)
It’s clear that many people believe this could be the turning point in the fight to end sexual assault and bring those guilty to justice, but we must acknowledge how far is still to go. Most rapes in the UK continue to go unreported, and while the MeToo movement continues to gain momentum, I wondered how much impact it had here in St Andrews. I asked Taylor if during her years working with the feminist society, she felt the MeToo movement had affected student’s engagement with this topic.
‘I’ve seen more support with things like reclaim the night and more people willing to speak out and share their stories and say me too. It’s been massive, we’re still not there yet but I think it’s a turning point,’ (Taylor Hendrickson)
While the world continues to react to Weinstein’s conviction and the MeToo movement celebrates its first major victory, we must not assume that the challenging work to get justice for all victims of sexual violence is done. Weinstein is just the beginning of a long and difficult road ahead. Here the university continues to maintain a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual misconduct and violence and is working hard to implement new policies, like mandatory consent workshops, to ensure the safety of all its students and staff. With cooperation and support from all in our community, the impact of the MeToo movement could make a substantial difference to the lives of countless victims around the world.