Movie Mogul Harvey Weinstein has been convicted of rape. But the problem is much bigger and more insidious than a few bad men.
In May 2017, New York Times journalist Jodi Kantor had a conversation with Hollywood actress Rose McGowan that began the downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was on Monday convicted of sexual assault by a New York jury and faces further charges in Los Angeles.
Following Kantor’s article, the producer of multiple successful films from Kill Bill to The English Patient was under watch for sexual predation against women ranging over three decades.
What McGowan imparted was clearly bigger than her own experience of sexual assault. All the studios paid out money to silence women, she said, and no actress wanting a future dare speak out. In her case, Weinstein’s team quickly moved in with a US$100,000 payout conditional on her silence, money she said she donated to a rape crisis centre.
As more of Weinstein’s history became known, many wondered why women had not spoken out. Even more puzzling, why hadn’t all those around the producer who knew of his exploits exposed him?
Violence against women is one of New Zealand’s most significant and pressing social issues. Every day police respond to hundreds of family violence incidents, and women continue to die as a result of men’s violence. In December 2018 New Zealand recognised the severity of a specific offence – strangulation – and implemented legislative reform to address its pervasiveness. Five arrests for strangulation were reported a day in February 2019 . I mention all of this because of the Grace Millane murder trial.
On 21 December 2018 she was strangled to death while visiting New Zealand. Her body was later found in a suitcase, buried, in the Waitakere ranges in Auckland. The man accused of her murder claimed her death was the result of consensual rough sex that had “gone wrong”. After a three-week trial, a jury of five men and seven women found him guilty of murder after less than six hours of deliberation.
While a guilty verdict has been established, this does not detract from the distressing nature of this murder trial – distressing for myriad reasons: distressing because a young woman lost her life in a country where she should have been safe; because it quickly became a trial about a young woman’s sexual history and interests instead of the actions of a violent man; because while the defence said Millane was not to blame for what happened that night, the case it built suggested she was somehow blameworthy.
On Tuesday 16 April 2019, Professor Jan Jordan and colleagues launched the results from a three year Marsden study at a symposium in Wellington. The work – encompassing significant police file analysis, media analysis and interviews – examined women’s representations, contemporary pornography, and criminal justice responses to rape.
The symposium was live-recorded. You can watch all the main talks here – just click on the title of each talk below.