The rape trial of Harvey Weinstein has come to a conclusion. Both sides have presented their arguments, leaving it up to a jury to decide whether the powerful film producer abused his power to extract nonconsensual sexual favors from women.
The key component throughout the proceedings has been Weinstein's position of power over the alleged victims. As his defense team pointed out, though, that power imbalance complicates the very concept of consent. While the idea is unpopular, it is nevertheless a disturbing one for pending sex crimes against the rich and powerful.
Weinstein Defense: Sex Was Transactional
The big argument made by the alleged victims of Weinstein's sexual conduct was that he was a powerful man who was well connected and could get things done. That intimidated them, and either kept them quiet about his misconduct or made what appeared to be true consent a mere allusion of cooperation: One of the alleged victims admitted to having a 5-year relationship with Weinstein, and had even invited him to attend a wedding with her.
But Weinstein's defense lawyers turned that idea on its head by arguing that the same power of Weinstein was exactly what made their interactions with him consensual. According to the defense, these women knew that they stood to benefit from “schmoozing” Weinstein, and that undercuts the idea that the sex was not consensual: Instead, it was transactional.
Two Sides to the Fallout from that Defense
Let's imagine that the jury buys that argument – the argument that the women consented to the sexual encounters with Weinstein because they knew or intended to leverage it to their professional advantage in an industry where sexual appeal is an asset.
The initial reaction that nearly everyone will have is that this would insulate the rich and powerful from their sexual exploits and misconduct. Even if they did legitimately rape someone, their very power would be raised to defend against the allegation. They are powerful enough that the alleged victim knew she could get a professional advantage out of the situation, therefore the sex was a part of what would basically be a sex-for-promotion scheme, which had to have been consensual.
That would be disturbing.
But think of the other side of that same coin. If someone's influence always overwhelmed an alleged victim's agency, then powerful people would become targets and people who “sleep to the top” would stand to get even more out of their scheme by holding it over the person they're accusing of misconduct.
Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento
The Weinstein trial is not just a big moment in the #MeToo movement; it could mark a significant decision in what we think of as “consent.” Whether the trial ends with a conviction or an acquittal, we are sure to see the repercussions for awhile.
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who serves the accused in Philadelphia, including those who have been charged with a sex crime. Call his law office at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online for the legal help you need to defend against these potentially damaging charges.