The Verdict: I was scrolling through Twitter when I came across this headline "Harvey Weinstein Sentenced To 23 Years In Prison". Wow! I froze for a moment. Finally! I felt a sense of euphoria, a ray of hope for all survivors. According the NPR, Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison in a Manhattan courtroom on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. According to NBC, more than 80 women had accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including rape, sexual assault and harassment, going back decades. As I watched my twitter feed trend with #HarveyWeinstein, most women on my social media feeds celebrated this verdict, claiming, “Justice has been served”. Many tweets congratulated the “Silence Breakers” who courageously not only shared their stories with the world but also testified in court against this rapist. Harvey Weinstein was a media mogul in Hollywood who for decades had brandished his power and influence to sexually assault dozens of young women, intimidating and silencing them. The 24 "Silence Breakers" released the following statement "Harvey Weinstein's legacy will always be that he's a convicted rapist. He is going to jail - but no amount of jail time will repair the lives he ruined, the careers he destroyed, or the damage he has caused."
Why this verdict matters to survivors? The reason this verdict is so powerful because violence against women and girls is pandemic. According to WHO, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. Of all those who experience violence, less than 40 per cent of the women seek help of any sort. Most women usually resort to family and friends for help. They rarely look to formal institutions and mechanisms such as the police or health services. In fact less that 10 percent of survivors of sexual assault seek help from the police.
Sayfty recently released a Survivor’s toolkit for survivors of sexual assault. Through an anonymous survey, survivors shared their experiences using (or not choosing to use) professional services. As a matter of fact, so many things could go wrong once the survivor chooses to seek legal recourse. Often time perpetrators silence victims with threats, and or money. The legal process can be a long-drawn re-traumatizing battle. Substantial evidence or finding reliable witnesses to testify in court can be a big roadblock. And while 154 countries have laws on sexual harassment it does not mean they are always implemented. As is evident in the Nirbhaya case, the laws and court can play a big role in delaying justice.
A Ray Of Hope: This verdict comes as a ray of hope to millions of women around the world who have been assaulted. Hope that the justice system works and that woman's voices can no longer be silenced or ignored. That, perpetrators (no matter how rich or powerful they are) can no longer get away with crimes against women and girls. Today's verdict will hopefully serve as a reminder to our generation and the next that TimesUp. It's time for us to no longer ignore sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in homes, at workplace on the streets. That it's never a victim's fault, it’s not their clothes, time of the day or how drunk they were. Rapist causes rapes. Period!
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. Last month I stood on the TedxGateway stage in front of 5000 people to share my story (for the first time). It took a lot of courage, conviction and fighting my own fears and beliefs. While an assault can last for a few seconds, its impact in the form of trauma can live with you all your life. You see our society does a great job at raising girls and women to believe that we have a role to play in our own abuse, assaults or harassments. So it takes mountain loads of courage to stand up and share our stories with people we love and with strangers. Because we don't even know if anyone will believe us! If people will stop judging us for what we could have, should have done. And so, as a survivor I salute these 24 women. They not only had the courage to share how Weinstein assaulted them, but they went a step further to testify against him in court.
Remember: We as a society have repeatedly failed survivors of sexual assault. The courts either deny justice or don't deliver it in a timely manner. And we often don’t know how to support a survivor or simply refuse to believe one. This verdict is an example of how justice was successfully served to many. And any time we are looking for hope and courage, trying to decide what to do next, lets think of these brave women who against all odds stood up for themselves and against rape culture. Let’s remind ourselves “The Silence Breaker community was founded on solidarity, support, and compassion. The New York Trial has ended, but the Silence Breakers will persist in our crusade for cultural change, justice and to have our voice heard”.