Harvey Weinstein's overturned conviction highlights the enduring silence around sexual violence

Harvey Weinstein: More than 100 women had come forward to report incidents of sexual harassment and abuse from him.

Photo credit: AFP I

What you need to know:

  • The New York Court of Appeal's overturning Harvey Weinstein's conviction reopens wounds for survivors and raises questions about justice.
  • It has sparked outrage from advocates and highlighted the enduring power dynamics at play.
  • Despite setbacks, the fight against sexual violence continues with a renewed call for survivors' voices to be heard.

When Lupita Nyong'o penned an op-ed in the New York Times about her sexual violence experience with disgraced former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2017, she said she was doing so to "contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence".

More than 100 women had come forward to report incidents of sexual harassment and abuse from Weinstein, refusing to be silenced any more.

The #MeToo movement, which went viral after these allegations surfaced, seemed to signal an end to centuries of silence and shame surrounding sexual violence. Millions of women and men worldwide came forward, rejecting the shame and stigma of sexual violence. We sighed in relief when Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in jail three years later, hoping the world had finally found an antidote to the poisoned silence surrounding sexual violence. However, this relief was short-lived.

A recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial. I cringed when I read this, imagining the gruelling, traumatic marathon of remembering that the victims would have to endure if they were made to recount the details of the sexual violence in graphic detail. Ms Nyong'o, in her article, said she had "shelved my experience with Harvey far in the recesses of my mind." This is understandable, given the emotional toll of recalling sexual violence. UN experts expressed their dismay at the way in which women survivors had been failed, “survivors who risked their safety, livelihood and jobs to bravely come forward and share their ordeal”.

The story of these 100-plus women is the story of millions of victims worldwide who face the bitter reality of how notoriously difficult it is to prove sexual violence. Often, submission to silence is seen as a better option to maintain their sanity rather than enduring a trial where they must prove they were not to blame for what happened to them.

Sexual violence is about power: the power perpetrators wield against their victims and the power they take from them—their voices. Weinstein's overturned conviction painfully reminds his victims of this. That’s those who can continue to speak out, nay, shout against sexual violence.

A note on Whataboutism

Whataboutism is defined by Merriam-Webster as the act of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that an offence committed by another is similar or worse. I often encounter "whataboutist" readers when I write about the experiences of women and girls.

"What about men and boys?" they ask. I feel compelled to clarify that my brand of feminism does not ostracise men. I believe gender justice does not involve trampling on the rights of men or boys, and I would have failed my readers if they took away anything else from my articles.

The writer comments on social and gender topics (@FaithOneya; [email protected]).