Harvey Weinstein: justice has been done

But the #MeToo movement has done serious damage to justice in other ways.

Joanna Williams

Joanna Williams


More than two years after it first took off, the #MeToo movement finally has its prize. Yesterday, Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of raping one woman and sexually assaulting another. He now faces up to 29 years in jail. It is good that the accusations against Weinstein were put before a jury and it is good that justice has now been done. Few will be shedding tears at the shamed movie mogul’s conviction.

All around the world, campaigners, actors and journalists are celebrating Weinstein’s incarceration, not just as an example of the legal process successfully functioning, but also as a triumph for the #MeToo movement. Actresses such as Rosanna Arquette and Ashley Judd, who were among the first to come forward with accusations against Weinstein, have praised the bravery of the women who testified against Weinstein in court, as well all the #SilenceBreakers who spoke out about sexual assault. Tarana Burke who coined the phrase #MeToo, has described the reverberations of Monday’s verdict as extending far beyond Hollywood. The New York Post declared the guilty verdicts ‘a huge win for #MeToo’, while the BBC labelled Weinstein’s conviction ‘a victory for the #MeToo movement’.

But the long-awaited verdict is not the huge victory for women everywhere – or indeed for the specific women who came forward with allegations – that jubilant commentators would have us believe. And in the rush to celebrate, serious questions about the role of the #MeToo movement in actually hindering Weinstein’s prosecution are being overlooked.

Back in October 2017, in the days and weeks after the #MeToo movement first took off, at least 100 women alleged some form of sexual assault or mistreatment at the hands of Weinstein. Yet far fewer have taken their accusations to police or lawyers. There has been a great deal of talk about Weinstein’s use of non-disclosure agreements and women being too afraid to speak out. But a substantial number of women are, it seems, happy to have their stories discussed in the press and on social media but are not prepared to face cross-examination in a courtroom.

This matters because the sheer weight of allegations and the scale of media coverage surrounding Weinstein may have prejudiced the jury. From the very first #MeToo tweet, the case against Weinstein became merged with claims of sexual harassment made by women all over the world. That was a lot for one man to stand trial for and, unsurprisingly, Weinstein’s lawyers are now appealing his conviction in part on these grounds.

In court, the prosecution lawyers called witnesses who alleged abuse at the hands of Weinstein, but whose accusations were not included in the charges he faced. Their aim was to establish a pattern of behaviour, to paint Weinstein as a predator. This form of argument was mounted in the trial of Bill Cosby, but has not traditionally been used in legal proceedings that seek to try only specific crimes. This does indeed follow a pattern: right from the start, the #MeToo movement has looked to overturn long-standing principles of justice, including most notably the presumption of innocence. Under the edict of #MeToo, the imperative to believe all women meant that people were tried, found guilty and sentenced in the court of social media. This has had devastating consequences for individuals who have been accused of serious crimes, and has potentially contributed to the tragic suicides of Labour politician Carl Sargeant and, most recently, Caroline Flack.

Weinstein faced just four charges. He was found guilty of committing a criminal sexual act and third-degree rape, but he was acquitted of two counts of predatory sexual assault. The jury took four-and-a-half days to reach their verdict. The acquittals, the length of time the jury spent deliberating, and the small number of women that ultimately followed through with their accusations, suggest a truth that the #MeToo movement was never able to acknowledge – that sometimes sex is very clearly non-consensual and a woman has been raped, but that other times the issue of consent is not at all clear. Weinstein was a powerful man who could make or break women’s careers – a fact he no doubt exploited. But in an industry that privileges glamour and sexuality, there are also women who choose to use their beauty to their advantage. Some women, perhaps even some who were physically repulsed by Weinstein, no doubt sought to exploit his desire for them. #MeToo’s inability to recognise this infantilises women and robs them of all agency in encounters with men.

The women who took their accusation against Weinstein to court have every right to celebrate the fact that he has been found guilty and is now behind bars. But beyond this, who has #MeToo helped? Certainly not working-class girls from Huddersfield, Oxford, Manchester or Keighley, who were sexually abused at the hands of men of Pakistani heritage. There have been no #MeToo marches in solidarity with these young victims and no fundraisers to provide for their legal defence.

#MeToo’s pyrrhic victory lies solely in the fact that it has allowed a small group of middle-class, well-educated, elite women with a wealth of opportunities to portray themselves as victims. A tiny proportion of this cohort have gained a public profile from sharing their stories. For all other women, #MeToo has done far more harm than good. With the conviction of Harvey Weinstein, it is time to put an end to the #MeToo movement once and for all.

Joanna Williams is a spiked columnist and director of the think tank, Cieo.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Trevor Powell

29th February 2020 at 8:56 pm

When the result of your work is to elicit sympathy – and a great deal of it – for as unappetising a character as Weinstein, then it really is time to take a good long hard look at yourself.

jan mozelewski

27th February 2020 at 7:37 pm

I entirely agree.

jan mozelewski

27th February 2020 at 5:42 pm

The way this case has been conducted has disturbing similarities with the, now discredited, accusations aimed at the supposed Westminster Paedophile Ring. In which Tom Watson made a high profile for himself by dint of championing accusations by a deluded compulsive liar. And the Police and others fell in step with a surge of conspiracy theories and similar Me Too type stories to somehow make a case.
I don’t like the Weinstein’s of this world. His behaviour is deplorable and he is a man who has taken advantage of his power to the fullest extent. (Though I doubt many of those same women would have found it as disturbing as they claim if he had been powerful AND attractive.)
I do think it was common knowledge in that world and that it was a game that was largely played by two. The staying silent and non disclosure was all part of that game.

TheSickManOfEurope Smith

26th February 2020 at 4:35 pm

Men (and Women) will pay the price for this verdict.
The absurdity of this conviction is a warning to EVERY SINGLE MAN in the West.
Unless you have FILMED EVIDENCE of consent (even 30 years later..and she was YOUR GIRLFRIEND) you WILL be found guilty regardless (much like the way US universities now behave).
Her word (and “feelings”) will be enough for conviction….no evidence necessary.
So guys…wake up and FILM every consent!

Rosie Maxima

26th February 2020 at 5:32 pm

It is a false victory for #Metoo only, a predominantly white feminist lynch mob. It sets a bad precedent for rape allegations to thrive even where the women continued contact and interaction with him after the incident. It also makes juries entitled to rely on multiple allegations even where only one witness’ story appeared credible. A similar tactic was used in Cosby’s trial. I am a woman but I believe we are entering a worrying phase of the court of public opinion and unhinged, bitter woman having the final say.

jan mozelewski

27th February 2020 at 5:52 pm

I quite agree. This is judicial equivalent of ‘no smoke without fire’ and some kind of accumulation of hear-say and gossip over time equating to the truth. Anyone who has observed the sort of utter nonsense repeated, added to and passed off as ‘fact’ on social media platforms will see the pattern.
(See the example of the Elm Guest House conspiracy theory)
It shows that the true damage of social media on society isn’t what happens directly on those platforms…it lies in how they are influencing the nature of debate, conversations, truth-seeking in other far more important areas of public life.

Philip Humphrey

26th February 2020 at 7:49 pm

I do have a problem with the idea that a sufficiently large number of unproven (and unproveable) accusations amounts to “proof beyond reasonable doubt”, at least not without hard evidence as well. Convicting somebody in this way does in my opinion set a dangerous precedent and could open the way to future injustices. There is also the problem that it’s very hard to defend against multiple accusations, since even if there is alibi or contradicting evidence for a few of them, it’s unlikely to be available for all of them even if the defendant is innocent.

Rosie Maxima

26th February 2020 at 9:02 pm

Exactly. The cards are stacked such as to make it hard for the jury not to find the accused guilty of at least something.

Lauder Eric

26th February 2020 at 11:55 am

This article is disgustingly misandrous, a piece of feminist garbage.

The comparison between the case of sargeant and the case of Flack is outrageous: Sargeant have been accused by rumors and he didn’t know who was his accuser, while Flack have been charged by the CPS because there was PLENTY evidence.

steve moxon

26th February 2020 at 2:29 pm

That’s Joanna Williams for you. A pretty useless journalist. She is accurate on some things, but woeful on others, ad is a pretend ant–feminist — a misandrist pretending she isn’t.

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