What Harvey Weinstein’s Sentence Teaches Us About Different Types of Sexual Assault

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On February 24th, justice was finally served in one of the most important cases in the history of women’s rights in the country.

Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of a first-degree criminal sex act against former production assistant Miriam Haley in 2006 and of third-degree rape against former actress Jessica Mann in 2013.

However, Judge James Burke acquitted the producer of the first-degree rape charges and two counts of predatory sexual assault, charges for which the BBC reported he could have been imprisoned for life.

Weinstein will be formally sentenced on March 11 and is expected to serve up to 25 years in prison for sexual assault.

Judge Burke’s decision was celebrated on social networks by victims and activists alike, who said they “cried and celebrated,” and who thanked all the brave women who testified and managed to bring the case to public attention.

“For the women who testified in this case, and walked through traumatic hell, you did a public service to girls and women everywhere, thank you,” wrote Ashley Judd, one of the first victims to go on the record about Weinstein’s misconduct, on Twitter.

“Harvey Weinstein is now a convicted rapist,” wrote the Italian actress and director Asia Argento on Instagram. “Two survivors cry and celebrate. Thank you God.”

The actress Rosanna Arquette, another accuser, wrote on Twitter, “Gratitude to the brave women who’ve testified and to the jury for seeing through the dirty tactics of the defense.”

But Why Was He Acquitted of the Other Charges?

Although Weinstein faces other charges in a Los Angeles court, the New York trial was based on the testimony of six women who claimed that the producer had sexually assaulted them. 

However, according to the New York Times, the formal accusation was sustained only by the count of Haley and Mann, who “acknowledged that they continued to see Mr. Weinstein after the alleged assaults and later had consensual sex with him, testimony that complicated the prosecution’s case.”

In an attempt to support the prosecution’s argument that Weinstein had “engaged over time in a pattern of sexual abusive behavior,” the judge allowed testimony from other women, whose stories dated back even 30 years, which did not convince the jury and couldn’t be prosecuted under New York’s statue of limitations.

“Prosecutors had described Mr. Weinstein as a clever predator who kept his victims close to control them, using his power over their careers in the film industry as leverage,” the Times explained.

“But defense lawyers had said the women had willingly had sex with Mr. Weinstein to further their careers and only years later, after he had been accused in news reports of sexual harassment, began to remember their encounters with him as nonconsensual.”

How Are Degrees of Sexual Assault Classified?

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, and although the statutes vary according to each state’s legislation, sexual assault is defined as “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim,” and that includes: attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body, penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape.”

In New York, for example, Weinstein was found guilty of sexual assault in the first degree, which under the Penal Law is defined as “engaging in sexual intercourse with another person by forcible compulsion,” as well as sexual assault in the third degree, defined as “engaging in sexual intercourse with another person without such person’s consent where such lack of consent is by reason of some factor other than incapacity to consent.”

However, he was acquitted on charges of predatory sexual assault.

Finally, and although the law may seem ambiguous in this type of case, Weinstein’s sentence is a sufficient precedent to give strength and courage to the millions of women and men who are victims of sexual harassment and violence, and who will no longer have to wait thirty years (or more) to raise their voices.