Harvey Weinstein’s 23-year prison sentence has been met with hope in the U.K., where industry figures hope to see justice meted out for transatlantic victims of the disgraced movie mogul.
Wednesday’s outcome has been hailed a major victory that will set a groundbreaking precedent for future cases. Most importantly, the sentence proves that the “law can work,” according lawyer Jill Greenfield, who is representing six individuals in a group civil suit against Weinstein in the U.K.
Greenfield, a personal injury lawyer who began civil proceedings against the producer shortly after the scandal broke in 2017, tells Variety: “When I started this case, I said no one is above the law and I hoped that was going to be right, and this sentence proves to me that that really is right. It should embolden women around the world because the law works.”
Greenfield’s civil case, which is still “live,” runs alongside the Met Police’s criminal investigation into Weinstein, known as Operation Kaguyak. Some of her clients are among the 11 survivors involved in the ongoing criminal investigation, for which charges have yet to be filed.
The lawyer, a partner with law firm Fieldfisher, describes the case against Weinstein as “an international war” that speaks to the exhaustive resources required “to bring down one man.”
However, Greenfield adds the sentence represents a “good level of recognition of what happened to those involved and the very many women who’ve made accusations,” adding that Met Police are doing a “thorough” investigation around the criminal allegations.
Elsewhere, advocacy group Time’s Up U.K., which formed in early 2018 following the scandal, said the decision marks a “major moment” for silence breakers and women battling everywhere for their right to work in a safe workplace without fear of abuse and harassment.
“The precedence of this case cannot be underestimated. A group of brave women were listened to and believed,” reads a statement from the organization released Wednesday afternoon.
“The importance of this case is not that this ends harassment but that it provides a dent in a system which we know from revelations at Fox and CBS Corporation among others, has been systemic in our industry and broader society. This is not a situation of one bad wolf.”
Dame Heather Rabbatts, chair of Time’s Up U.K., called the sentence “momentous,” and predicts it will drive forward the criminal investigation into Weinstein, as well as Greenfield’s civil suit.
“I suspect there will be further conversations between lawyers to consider next steps. For him to be tried here will require him to be extradited. It’s hard to predict what will happen and we’ll be discussing the point with lawyers in the forthcoming days,” she says.
Rabbatts adds that Time’s Up U.K. is in the process of compiling figures around a potential spike in U.K. women coming forward to report assault and rape.
“For many companies that are putting in place guidances and practices, this will be a huge signal about the importance of changing the culture. That’s something we’re focused on, to ensure the terrible events don’t happen again.”
Meanwhile, Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, which launched the 50/50 for 2020 campaign for equality in the film industry in 2016, said the overall movement is buoyed by such legal victories.
“I really believe the movement will get even stronger,” says Serner. “We knew we wouldn’t achieve parity globally in 2020 but now we’re even more energized to keep on fighting.”
Weinstein was sentenced Wednesday on charges of sexual assault and third-degree rape and will also be registered as a sex offender.
Before the sentencing was delivered, Weinstein addressed a packed Manhattan courtroom and said he had “deep remorse” in a speech that also hit out at the #MeToo movement, implying that it had gone too far. “I am totally confused,” he said. “I think men are confused about all of this…this feeling of thousands of men and women who are losing due process, I’m worried about this country.”
Prosecutors urged Justice James Burke to give Weinstein the “maximum sentence” of 29 years. The disgrace movie mogul’s attorneys requested the minimum sentence of five years, citing his poor health and advanced age.
The two victims in the case, Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann, delivered “victim impact” statements before Burke issues the sentence. They were sitting in the front row of the court room alongside Tarale Wulff, Dawn Dunning, Lauren Young, and Annabella Sciorra, all of whom testified in the trial about Weinstein’s assaults.
Haley, who says she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein in his apartment in 2006, told the judge that she was left emotionally damaged by the incident. “It scarred me deeply, mentally and emotionally,” she added. “What he did not only stripped me of my dignity as a human being and a woman, but it crushed my confidence.”
The sentence comes almost three weeks after Weinstein’s Feb. 24 conviction of sexual assault and third-degree rape. He was acquitted of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault.
Following the verdict, “Elizabeth” producer Alison Owen, who worked with Weinstein across five films and, in 2017, broke her silence on his “sleazeball” behavior on set, told Variety it felt “like the world had turned on its axis.”
Owen’s sister-in-law Laura Madden, a former Miramax employee, was one of the first women to go on the record for the New York Times’ ground-breaking investigation into Weinstein.
“Despite all the sound and fury, despite the bravery of all these women, including my own sister-in-law, I realized I still hadn’t expected this outcome,” said Owen.