Emma Valvo opened her phone Monday morning to an overwhelming feeling of relief.
The social work master’s student had just found out Harvey Weinstein was convicted of third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act.
Students like Valvo believe Weinstein’s guilty verdict is setting the tone for future sexual assault cases and opening up the conversation for survivors to come forward. They are hopeful that people will stop “victim-blaming” and hold perpetrators accountable.
The New York County District Attorney’s Office originally charged the ex-Hollywood producer and former UB student with five crimes including one count of first-degree criminal sexual act, two counts of rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault. Weinstein was acquitted of the more serious charges, predatory sexual assault, which carried a prison sentence of 10 years to life. He was convicted of third-degree rape, carrying a sentence of up to four years, and one count of first-degree criminal sexual act, a sentence of 5-25 years. Weinstein’s sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday.
“I was relieved for the victims, and a little surprised that they were actually getting some type of justice, which many victims often never get even after a grueling trial,” Valvo said.
The charges were based on testimonies from Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann. Haley testified that in 2006, Weinstein forced oral sex on her and Mann testified that in 2013, Weinstein raped her during what she considered an “abusive relationship.”
Students feel the case will be a major turning point for the #MeToo movement.
Dayna Boone, a senior biological sciences major and member of the Student Survivor Advocacy Alliance –– a peer-run group that unites sexual assault survivors with allies in order to take a stand against sexual violence –– said Weinstein being held accountable sends a “very powerful message.”
“This rich and powerful man who was, for so long, getting away with this is finally being held responsible for his actions, [proving] these crimes have serious consequences, and that survivors are being believed,” Boone said. “This is an amazing start to create a shift in culture change to hold perpetrators accountable and to believe survivors.”
While Boone was feeling hopeful, Valvo was glad the jury listened to, and believed, the survivors.
“I think that we often forget about the victims in these cases and start focusing too much on the trial and the media hype cases like these get,” Valvo said.
Aaron Maracle, the SSAA advisor, first found out about Weinstein’s guilty verdict after checking CNN.
“Knowing how rarely cases of rape and sexual assault actually end up in court and then seeing a guilty verdict was good to see,” Maracle said.
Valvo believes the verdict may give other survivors the confidence to speak up about their own stories.
“We still live in a victim-blaming society, that is, a society in which we hold victims accountable for their assaults instead of perpetrators,” Valvo said. “I would hope that with this verdict we start seeing a shift in this ideal and start seeing a more understanding and supportive culture around reporting and speaking about sexual violence.”
Similarly, Boone is hopeful, but knows there is a lot more work to be done, especially after seeing Weinstein’s more serious charges dropped.
“I don’t think it’s fair that he was acquitted to other, more major crimes such as predatory sexual assault,” Boone said. “It’s far too often you see rich, successful white men get lesser charges or let off crimes such as this, and although this verdict is a huge step in the right direction, there is so much work still to be done.”
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