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Harvey Weinstein's Case Is Central To The #MeToo Movement

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As you may have heard, a jury this week found Harvey Weinstein guilty in two separate cases - of rape in the third degree and a criminal sex act in the first degree - while acquitting the former Hollywood executive of other more serious charges. We know what all this means for Weinstein - likely prison time. What does it mean for many victims of sexual harassment and assault? Noel King spoke with attorney Areva Martin and also Sharyn Tejani, who directs the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, which supports victims of workplace sexual harassment.

NOEL KING, BYLINE: Areva, I want to start with you. After the verdict was handed down, what did you hear from some of the victims of harassment and assault that you've worked with?

AREVA MARTIN: I work with a lot of women in underserved communities. For those women, a lot of the messages that I did hear were, you know, women saying, finally, this is happening. We've suffered in silence for a long period of time. So I was happy to hear that the guilty verdicts for Weinstein actually trickled down and meant something to women who have sometimes felt like they were locked out of this entire process.

KING: Sharyn, Areva just mentioned people who are ordinary, who are not high-profile, as the women in the Harvey Weinstein case were. You work with McDonald's employees. Can you talk about what it's like to work with that group of people when it comes to cases like this?

SHARYN TEJANI: So if you're a low-wage worker, there are the fears of not being believed. There are the fears of feeling like this is really your fault. There are the fears of, what's going to happen if I come forward? And will I be retaliated against? Will I lose my job? And when you're a low-wage worker, all of that becomes a lot more frightening because, of course, you don't have any savings that you can fall back on. You don't have a way to go find money, which you're desperately going to need. And so it's a question of, are you going to risk your job sometimes in coming forward? - and whether that's worth it to you or not.

KING: Earlier this week, I interviewed Cyrus Vance. He's the Manhattan district attorney. He knew of a complaint against Harvey Weinstein in 2015. A woman had recorded Weinstein apologizing for groping her. And Cyrus Vance, the district attorney, did not bring charges. He said there wasn't enough evidence. When I talked to him this week, he said that the times have changed. And the way we look at victims and their testimony has changed. Areva, how big a deal is it for the people who prosecute these cases to say, this Harvey Weinstein decision has changed to some extent the way I look at whether a case is winnable, whether a case should be brought?

MARTIN: It's a huge deal. And when you think back to that time period, the climate was very different. Filing a case against a perpetrator when the victim had continual relationships with that individual - and in the case of Harvey Weinstein and the two victims in the recent case, not only did they have continuous contact with Harvey Weinstein. They actually had consensual, some kind of intimate relationships with him. So there has been a sea change in terms of how I think prosecutors will look at these cases and their willingness to file charges on cases that used to be cases that would be just summarily dismissed as not being winnable cases.

TEJANI: And what I'm hoping is that when juries hear from people who've come forward, they will stop asking questions about, you know, why didn't you come forward exactly right then? We're hoping that this shows that people are understanding that being a survivor is a very difficult thing. And it happens differently for different people. And this is a path forward that may not look exactly the way the perfect victim should be. But this is how people actually do come forward.

KING: So this brings up a really interesting question, which is, is there a way to turn this from individual cases, individual women into a more concrete legal framework?

MARTIN: Probably not because we are talking about such a complex issue with so many nuances. And there are many women who don't want to disclose. They don't want to be the public face of what sexual harassment looks like in the workplace. We're in this unique moment in time. It's a complex time. There isn't consensus about, what is the best way forward?

TEJANI: I think one thing that the trial showed us is how sex harassment comes about because there's someone who's willing to use their power, and then there's a system around that person that enables all of that to happen. And I think you see that over and over again in workplace sex harassment cases - that there's the harasser, but then there's also the HR system that doesn't work or that people don't know where to complain, or they're afraid of complaining, or they're retaliated against for complaining. So I think that when we talk about how we're going to change going forward, what we have to do is think about, what does the survivor need? And how are we going to help that person get to where they want to be?

Another thing I think we saw is how retaliation is something that people face regularly after they come forward. And we see the same thing with the people coming forward to us. You know, once you've complained and come forward, sometimes, it's really hard to get that next job because if you're in a small enough industry, people know who you are. People know what happened. Or they talk to your references. Or you don't know how to explain why you left that job.

MARTIN: I was also - Sharyn, that's a great point. And I think that's, again, one of those nuances that makes this so complex when we talk about legislating it because we can have every law there is. But women come forward, and they talk about having been sexually assaulted on one job. And if they filed a lawsuit or claim on that one job, getting that second employer to hire that woman - that's a part of the complexity that I see. And I've seen that with women that I've represented who've said, no, I don't want to talk about this because I know that that next employer is going to treat me differently.

KING: So a last question to each of you - how significant was it when the judge came out and said Harvey Weinstein is guilty on two counts?

MARTIN: It is, in some ways, the end of a long journey but also the beginning of part two of that journey. It's a new day for all of those women who have suffered for so long in silence.

TEJANI: Especially when you look at how much had to go into this moment happening. It took so many women coming forward, so many women deciding that this is what they wanted to do. And then finally, at the end of the day, having some measure of justice and seeing that this can't happen. And this is a powerful white man being held accountable.

KING: Attorney Areva Martin and Sharyn Tejani, who directs the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, which supports victims of workplace sexual harassment. Thank you both for taking the time. We really appreciate it.

MARTIN: Thank you.

TEJANI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEVER ACHES' "DI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.