Voices: Weinstein and R Kelly were sentenced to additional years today — but nothing else has changed

Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 04 October 2022 (REUTERS)
Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 04 October 2022 (REUTERS)

Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 16 years in prison and denied a new trial, three months after being convicted of rape in Los Angeles.

This sentencing relates to the second trial Weinstein was involved in, and it played out in some particularly telling ways. In the trial, four women accused the former movie producer of rape and sexual assault — but he was convicted of the rape and sexual assault of only one woman in the end. Weinstein’s defense team went all-out on the offensive, describing one of the accusers, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, as “just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood”. And although the MeToo movement and general consensus seems to imply that we have moved beyond such misogynistic stereotyping as a society, it became clear that message had resonated with the jury.

The woman whose case led to the sole conviction in that trial — a European model who has chosen to remain anonymous, and was referred to throughout as “Jane Doe #1” — was in a very particular situation. She had no prior or subsequent contact with Weinstein after the rape. She said she barely knew who he was. She didn’t stand to benefit from contact with Weinstein, and her career doesn’t seem to have been affected by the sexual assault.

The other three women involved in the case did have career reasons to have contact with Weinstein, and the jurors involved appeared to see this as suspect. Even though Weinstein’s ability to go undetected as a predator for so long was dependent on the fact that he was a powerful man in a position to affect people’s careers — and even though his first trial opened up a long discussion about power dynamics — jurors are less likely to convict when they feel a woman has “gained” from her assault. Underlying this is an assumption that unwanted sexual contact is a fair exchange for career progression. There is an assumption that “she did it to get ahead” invalidates a woman’s claim that she was raped by a man who was in a position of power. Never mind that the alternative may have been blacklisting and the effective end of one’s career. Never mind that such an attitude puts rape in the same category as bringing in the coffee as an intern. It apparently still bears saying that rape and sexual assault should not be merely necessary rites of passage for a career in Hollywood.

Elsewhere today, another disgraced famous man was also sentenced for an additional sexual crime. R Kelly, who for many years had been openly having sexual relationships with underage girls, had already been sentenced to 30 years for crimes including illegal sex with minors and sexual exploitation of children. Prior to his conviction, many had said that his crimes were conducted openly and that his involvement with young girls — the majority of whom were vulnerable children of color — was, like Weinstein’s flagrant sexual misconduct, an “open secret” in the industry.

Kelly was sentenced today in Chicago to 20 years for child pornography. During the height of his fame, he regularly had sexual contact with minors, made films of the teenagers involved and showed them to others. Multiple testifying victims said that their lives had been ruined by his sexual abuse. He apparently lost interest in his victims after they finished puberty.

Although the prosecution had pushed for as much as an additional 25 years to run after Kelly’s 30-year conviction, the judge ordered that 19 years run concurrently to his existing prison sentence, meaning that in practice he will only serve one extra year on the end. The defense argued that Kelly will likely not survive beyond a 31-year prison sentence anyway, considering his long-term health complications that include diabetes.

Kelly’s lawyers say that he is remorseful but they have advised him not to speak in court, even though he wants to express regret. His victims are largely nonplussed about the possibility of an apology. They do not believe he has the capacity to be sincere.

Weinstein has always denied raping his accusers and instead claimed that all sexual contact he had with young women during his time in Hollywood was consensual. He has said in the past that he has “remorse for this situation” insofar as it is “hell on earth” for himself and his family. “If I had to do it over again, I would not do it that way. If I had to do a lot of things over, I would care less about the movies and care more about my children, family, and other people and friends,” he said in 2020. He added that he felt sorry for his two ex-wives, who didn’t know that he was having sexual contact with other women, and he told the judge today during sentencing that he considers himself “innocent”. He has never addressed the feelings of the women he assaulted — and it’s likely, three years down the line, that he never will.