Harvey Weinstein’s mixed verdict highlights complexity of sexual assault cases

Jurors in the Los Angeles trial of Harvey Weinstein were released and allowed to speak with the media last week. We learned why they convicted the one-time movie mogul on charges related to just one of the four women he was accused of raping or sexually assaulting.

The “subsequent action” of the women, said one juror, was a key factor. “Jane Doe 1” was the only alleged victim who had no further dealings or contact with Weinstein or people representing him after the incident.

The juror said the panel acquitted Weinstein of one count of sexual battery against a massage therapist because the alleged victim’s story changed over time.

The jurors deadlocked on charges involving two other alleged victims, voting 10-2 for guilt on a count of sexual battery against model Lauren Young, and 8-4 for guilt on charges of rape and sexual assault on Jennifer Siebel-Newsom, a documentary film producer who is now the wife of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“She had a little drama,” said the juror about Siebel-Newsom’s tearful testimony. He said the jurors were initially deadlocked 6-6 on the charges related to the governor’s wife. “I suggested let’s re-read (her testimony), and I think after we read it, it switched a couple of people in her favor, without the drama,” the juror said.

Sexual harassment (or worse) is nearly always unwitnessed. It’s easy for someone to make false charges. It’s easy for someone to falsely deny truthful charges. In the workplace, there is almost always a sharp differential in power and prestige between the alleged victim and the alleged victimizer.

“You don’t say no to Harvey Weinstein,” Siebel-Newsom testified during the trial, explaining why she decided not to leave his hotel suite even after she noticed a bottle of champagne in a bucket and was nervous that “it felt a little bit like a date.” She said Weinstein had invited her to meet with him at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills to discuss her professional goals.

When the prosecutor asked her why “you don’t say no to Harvey Weinstein,” Siebel-Newsom answered, “Because he could make or ruin your career.”

Siebel-Newsom further testified that during the sexual assault, she made “pleasure noises” in the hope that this would “make it stop.”

The juror who spoke to the media noted the “subsequent conduct” by Siebel-Newsom that swayed some members of the panel to vote to acquit: “In a two-and-a-half year period she had sent Mr. Weinstein over 35 emails. She wanted access to Harvey Weinstein. It sounded like she wanted access to a lot of his resources.”

“Transactional” was the word Weinstein defense attorney Mark Werksman used to describe the events.

In contrast, “Jane Doe 1” never contacted Weinstein after the rape. She testified that he showed up uninvited at her hotel room door, in the middle of the night, when she was visiting California for a film festival in 2013. She said she had been introduced to him briefly at the film festival but barely knew who he was and wanted nothing from him.

“I thought Jane Doe 1 was very convincing in her story,” the juror told reporters.

Harvey Weinstein is currently serving a 23-year sentence in New York for rape and sexual assault, a conviction that he is appealing. The Los Angeles conviction will add up to 18 years in a California prison. Prosecutors could refile the charges on which the jurors did not reach a verdict.

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Sexual harassment was once so common in the workplace that there wasn’t even a name for it. References to the “casting couch” are as old as the film business. The 1960s Broadway show and film, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” features a musical number titled, “A Secretary is Not A Toy” that is almost a documentary from the era.

It continues to be true that the victim of sexual harassment, usually a young woman, who is preyed upon by a powerful person in the workplace, usually an older man, is forced to choose between going along and staying silent, or saying no and suffering damage to her career.

But at least in one case, it’s Harvey Weinstein who will “never work in this town again.”

Write and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley

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