The long-awaited criminal sexual assault trial against former film mogul Harvey Weinstein began this week in Los Angeles. Weinstein faces 11 charges of sexual assault, including assault using restraint.
The counts include alleged assaults between 2008 and 2013, when Weinstein was at the height of his fame and power. During this time, he was often seen at highly publicized events socializing with politicians like Bill and Hillary Clinton and superstars like Oprah Winfrey, even though it was an open secret in Hollywood that Weinstein was a predator who took advantage of actresses. It was because of this power and influence that many survivors stayed silent about Weinstein’s crimes. Women who did report the abuse found their careers and reputations destroyed.
This trial is expected to be different from previous actions against the disgraced producer for a number of reasons—but one stands out: California First Lady Jennifer Seibel Newsom, a former actress and documentarian, is expected to testify about how Weinstein sexually assaulted her early in her career. According to an essay Newsom wrote in 2017, the assault was the impetus behind a documentary she made in 2011 that highlighted how women are hyper-sexualized in the media and vulnerable to abuse and assault.
Weinstein is currently serving a 23-year sentence for rape and sexual assault in the state of New York, stemming from a 2020 criminal trial. Many consider the Los Angeles trial simply a “statement” on behalf of the victims, since Weinstein is not expected to survive his entire New York sentence. If convicted on all charges in the Los Angeles trial, he faces a life sentence. It is the hope of prosecutors that sexual assault survivors will be encouraged to come forward and report by seeing former power brokers like Weinstein face criminal charges.