After years of rumours, and many insider references, the extensively honoured Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein has been revealed to be a serial sex offender. Such a statement would usually be libellous without a conviction, but the evidence stacked against Weinstein is overwhelming — with numerous women reporting abuses by him ranging from workplace harassment to sexual assault and rape.
As fast as Weinstein’s downfall has been the cultural shift stemming from his unmasking. The #MeToo hashtag has been used by victims of sexual harassment and violence to speak out about their experiences, collecting testimonies against many other high-profile figures in the process.
In Britain this has resonated across the corridors of power, leading to a raft of MPs facing complaints of sexual misconduct — including Conservative Cabinet ministers. Labour and Liberal Democrat chiefs stand accused of attempting to cover-up the rape of party activists.
We must face up to the likelihood that these are only the beginning of the revelations from Westminster, which has been plagued for years by a toxic culture of bullying and chauvinism. No longer can it be tolerated.
Britain is already well-acquainted with the likes of Weinstein. The actress Emma Kennedy compares him to Jimmy Savile, the BBC personality who preyed on adults and minors for decades. Savile escaped justice through his death, which brought with it the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Yewtree — resulting in media personalities and figures of authority being jailed for offences dated from as far back as the 1960s.
APPLYING TIME LIMITS TO SUCH OFFENCES IS NOT ONLY A CRUEL JUDICIAL CHOICE, BUT ALSO A DANGEROUS ONE
Weinstein is currently under investigation by the Met Police for offences in dated from the 1980s to as recently as 2015. Under British criminal law time is no restriction against bringing charges. The Weinstein revelations force America to confront that its laws are, in contrast, inconsistent and widely unforgiving.
Throughout the US states, and at the federal level, there are statutes of limitations on bringing charges for sexual offences. In other words, from the date the crime is committed a time limit begins which when expired blocks the state’s ability to prosecute the offender.
Crimes like these leave deep psychological scars — often subjecting survivors to years of suffering before they are able to come to terms with their traumatic experiences and speak out about them. Predators will often intimidate their victims into silence, with powerful men like Weinstein using legal threats.
Applying time limits to such offences is not only a cruel judicial choice, but also a dangerous one. Historical cases are more difficult to prosecute evidentially, but for this very reason it is easier to build cases against predators who offend prolifically.
A case in point is Bill Cosby, the comedian who has been accused by dozens of women of abuse and rape spanning from the 1960s to the 2000s. Cosby has openly admitted to drugging his victims, some of whom were minors, to facilitate assaulting them.
More charges could have been brought against Cosby under British law. But because of the time limits applied in the states on his unofficial record, Cosby has only been been charged for an assault from 2004 in Pennsylvania.
ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC, CULTURAL AND LEGAL CHANGES ARE NECESSARY IN THE POST-WEINSTEIN AGE
This ludicrous situation motivated the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, to abolish the statutes of limitations in his state. But going into effect in January 2017, the change is not retroactive.
Whistleblowers such as Elijah Wood and Corey Feldman have warned of decades of sexual exploitation of child actors by Hollywood elites, highlighted by the Weinstein effect’s snaring of Kevin Spacey. Yet even survivors of historical abuses in Weinstein’s hunting ground are denied any meaningful justice.
If time limits did not apply to the multiple claims of sexual assault made against one particular man — and the Access Hollywood tape that revealed his sense of untouchability and entitlement to abuse women was played to a jury — it is believable that they would find him guilty. Instead of the White House, Donald Trump might now be occupying a prison cell.
On both sides of the Atlantic, cultural and legal changes are necessary in the post-Weinstein age. It is our collective responsibility to end tolerance for abusive and misogynistic behaviour reflected in the attitudes of young people.
Most sexual crimes go unreported. To secure more convictions, the trial process should be reformed to accommodate vulnerable victims. Institutions — such as Westminster — must develop independent procedures for investigating complaints. The systemic covering up of abuses should be criminalised.
Statutes of limitations for sexual crimes, where they exist, must be abolished. Their impact in America is palpable: not only empowering predators at the height of the entertainment industry but assisting to implant one into the world’s most powerful office.