The conviction of the powerful movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has changed the way many think about cases of rape and sexual assault. Prosecutors and women’s rights advocates are hailing it as a large win. But what, if anything, does it really change about the way courts will hear rape and sexual assault cases?
Reporters from numerous agencies, including PBS, exclaimed that the Weinstein case was a game-changer. However, as they pointed out, the case largely shattered expectations about what might work. It didn’t actually change the law.
Here’s what the Weinstein conviction could mean for those facing charges
On the one hand, the Weinstein case makes it easier for victims of sexual violence to get the justice they deserve, and that’s good. On the other hand, people wrongfully accused of sexual violence may wonder whether the case might bias juries against them. Could the Weinstein case make it easier for prosecutors to convict people on false charges?
As many have noted, the case was notable for the way it showed that courts and juries may be ready to hear and understand evidence they previously discounted:
- That women might stay in contact with an abuser even after the crime
- That they might have consensual encounters after a rape, and that those encounters don’t change the nature of the rape
- That an attacker could use force without leaving signs of physical abuse
- That victims may not report immediately after the crime
In short, the case suggested that juries may be better situated now, than before, to recognize that sexual contact without consent—at that time—is sexual violence. It doesn’t matter if the people involved had relations afterward. It all comes down to the issue of consent.
As a result, people facing charges in Indiana should understand how the law views the idea of consent. In cases of rape and sexual battery, there’s no given consent if:
- The victim was compelled by the use or threated use of force
- The victim is so “mentally disabled or deficient” as to be unable to offer consent
- The victim is unaware of the sexual contact at the time
These definitions appear clear-cut in many cases, such as when the contact involves physical violence or passed-out victims. And the Weinstein case may have strengthened their use in cases where the violence may have been threatened or even directed at a person’s career, rather than their body.
Defendants want to show how they received consent
The main issue facing defendants in the wake of the Weinstein case is that it’s likely more important than ever to address the issue of consent. Old arguments may not suffice. Defense attorneys who used ongoing contact to question the plaintiff’s denials of consensual contact may need to explore new narratives. They may need new ways to approach the idea of consent at the exact time of the alleged crime.
At Kammen & Moudy, our attorneys pay attention to cases like those of Harvey Weinstein. We watch to see what other courts may accept or refuse as evidence. We pay attention to the ways that juries respond to what they hear. Even when the laws remain unchanged, changing circumstances may place greater weight upon different arguments. So, we pay attention and use our knowledge, along with the details of our clients’ cases, to shape their defense.