Members of the Silence Breakers – a group of women who have spoken out about sexual harassment and abuse that includes several Harvey Weinstein accusers – reacted with shock and elation after the former movie mogul was sentenced to 23 years in prison in a Manhattan courtroom on Wednesday morning.
“This is a historic moment and it’s precedent-setting,” actress and Weinstein accuser Caitlin Dulany told Variety at the “And We Still Rise: Survivors Becoming Empowered” Silence Breakers conference held at the California Endowment in Los Angeles just after the sentence was announced. “23 years seems like justice. I was assaulted by him 22 years ago and I have lived with that ever since.”
Speaking outside court in New York, Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno said that the defense team is likely to file an appeal in July — a move Dulany told Variety she had expected, but added that the complicated and lengthy process would contribute to Weinstein’s punishment. “He will fight it. He will spend a lot of his time working on that and thinking about that. And he will spend the rest of his life dealing with this, not [as] a free man. And that’s justice.”
Dulany also said she was angered, but not surprised that Weinstein failed to apologize when addressing his victims in court earlier that day. “What would it be like for Harvey to admit that he had actually done all of these things? He obviously lacks compassion and did his whole life. Any kind of compassion, empathy or remorse. It’s hard for me to understand.”
Canadian actress Larissa Gomes, who along with Dulany, participated in a class action lawsuit against Weinstein and his now defunct film studio the Weinstein Company, told Variety that she was stunned by his sentence. “I was not expecting it,” Gomes said. “I was hoping for it. I was bringing my son to school and I was just like, “Honey, remember the bully Mommy told you about? He’s going to jail.” I don’t think he really understood. He’s four. But he was like, “Yay, Mommy! Good job.” So, it was very sweet. I was getting a barrage of messages on my phone and I was like, this is incredible, this is amazing. I needed a minute to process it. He’s an old man, he has health problems and this is kind of a de facto life sentence for him.”
If Weinstein serves his full sentence, he would be just over 90 years old by the time he would be released from prison. The disgraced movie mogul, who has been treated for a myriad of health problems, was taken to New York City’s Bellevue hospital after reportedly experiencing chest pains following his sentencing.
Actress and Weinstein accuser Katherine Kendall weighed in on his health issues in relation to his sentence. “It’s going to be tough,” Kendall told Variety. “He’s not in great health, I saw him myself walking into the courtroom in New York. I was there for two of the days of the trial. While he may have been amping it up, he also doesn’t really look well. That’s real. I don’t wish death on him, but it’s going to be hard.”
Weinstein’s former assistant, Rowena Chiu — who accused him of trying to rape her in a hotel suite during the 1998 Venice Film Festival — also shared her thoughts regarding Weinstein’s life in prison.
“People have directly asked me, ‘Do I think he’s going to commit suicide?’ [or] ‘Do I think that someone will bump him off in the Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy theory way?'” Chiu told Variety. “You can’t speculate. At least on paper, he’s getting just deserts. And I think it’s a signal importantly to other potential predators and other victims who might come forward. As for Harvey, I hope he rots in jail, I’m sorry to say. He won’t see the blue skies again and that’s exactly what he deserves.”
Weinstein is also set to stand trial on sex crimes charges in Los Angeles and accuser Lauren Sivan doesn’t think that will be the end of his legal woes. ”I think there will be more cases beyond Los Angeles,” the TV journalist told Variety. “He was a global monster. I’m glad New York led the way. I’m glad someone led the way. But this isn’t the end for him. I think it sends a really strong message that this behavior is no longer going to be written off as ‘It’s just the casting couch,’ ‘It’s Hollywood, that’s what happens.’ It’s criminal behavior and it shouldn’t continue.”
Actress Jessica Barth — who, with Dulany, co-founded Voices In Action, an online sexual harassment and abuse reporting system — explained that legal reform is needed before more of Hollywood’s accused predators can be prosecuted.
“Annabella Sciorra was raped. And the only reason that that wasn’t prosecuted was because of the statute of limitations. Well, there shouldn’t be a statute of limitations on rape,” she said. “The standard for filing these cases is so high and I think that needs to be addressed.”
Barth also said she was dismayed by Rotunno’s treatment of the #MeToo movement during Weinstein’s trial. “To sit there and kind of roll your eyes at the #MeToo movement — the #MeToo movement isn’t a witch hunt, it’s a reckoning. And hopefully we can unearth all of this darkness and rebuild our culture and our community into something beautiful. But the fact that she wants to ignore the #MeToo movement that’s happening and the current climate is just absurd.”
Bill Cosby accuser Lili Bernard, who said she shares a sisterhood with the Weinstein accusers, credited the expert witness testimony of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Barbara Ziv for helping deliver guilty verdicts in both the Weinstein and Cosby trials.
“The difference it made is that she got on the stage and she edified the jury and debunked all these rape myths that tend to bias the jury, to explain to people that the reason why sexual assault survivors will often go back to their perpetrator is not because it was a consensual relationship,” Bernard told Variety. “It’s because over 85% of rapists, according to federal statistics, are people who we knew intimately. So, we go back because we have had a relationship with them, because we want to make it right, because we want them to apologize. We want to know, ‘Is it something I did? Am I imagining it?’ We want to confront them. So, she really helped the jury understand.”
The two-day Silence Breakers conference was organized by Echo, a non-profit organization that provides training and services to trauma survivors. Echo executive director Louise Godbold, also a Weinstein accuser, acknowledged the fortuitous timing of the sentencing coinciding with the first day of the conference. “All I can say is God loves me,” Godbold told Variety with a laugh. “The conference would have been fantastic anyway. Especially since this conference is about our lives moving forward being Weinstein survivors. This is about everything else in our lives. This is about all of the work that we have done. This is about celebrating the ways that we have grown. When we first planned the conference, we didn’t know that there was going to be a guilty verdict or what the sentence was going to be. But that was immaterial because we are going to celebrate our lives moving forward regardless.”