The Fourth Hurdle: The Courtroom
And then there were two. When the trial opened in January, Weinstein faced only Miriam Haleyi and Jessica Mann. Prosecutors introduced Annabella Sciorra as another witness. She claimed that Weinstein raped her in her home in the winter of 1993–94. Her allegation is too old to be prosecuted as a separate charge, but it was used to support two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carries a life sentence. Three other women testified to demonstrate that Weinstein had a history of abuse. Ultimately, the jury did not convict him of the predatory charges.
Outside the courtroom, Weinstein has been tried and found wanting. But inside, the women were on trial. At times, Mann sat sobbing, unable to speak, folding herself over in the witness chair to hide her face. In her cross-examination, Rotunno tried to pick apart Mann’s allegations. If Weinstein raped her, why did Mann eat breakfast with him the next morning; send him breezy, flirtatious emails for several years; try to introduce him to her mother; have an ongoing relationship with him for years, which included some consensual sex acts?
There are many reasons she, or any other alleged rape victim, would remain in touch with her abuser: she was worried about her career, she saw him at social events, she depended on him emotionally. She considered him a “pseudo father,” she testified. “He gave me all the validation I needed.”
If you hope to get a conviction, Tuerkheimer, the former prosecutor, told me, you have to somehow convey to the jury that this is a relationship characterized by power and control. “There was a sense that he controlled her world,” Tuerkheimer said of Mann. “From the outside, that testimony seems incredible. In order to get that testimony to make sense and to cohere, you really have to provide the jury with context. That’s the only way that the behavior of the woman and the case is going to make any sense.” In the end, the prosecutors seem to have succeeded at that.
As expected, the Weinstein trial laid bare—and frequently distorted—each woman’s sexual history and personal flaws.This is the adversarial system at work, of course, but it also demonstrates why so few women have been willing to come forward and accuse a boss, a friend, an acquaintance in this most public of forums.
The Fifth Hurdle: The Jury Room
When jurors retreat to decide a defendant’s fate, they carry with them all their life experience, their predilections and intuitions, as well as their recall of the evidence. The “rape myth” dictates that any evidence that the woman consented, any whiff of an ongoing relationship, should lead to an acquittal. For generations, this has meant that prosecutors shied away from complicated cases, and women kept abuse to themselves, allowing their abuser to continue undeterred.