Harvey Weinstein's $25m settlement offer to accusers: Is the system broken?
After the movie mogul offered $25m to accusers as part of a settlement in which he won't pay a penny or admit to any wrongdoing, Tanya Sweeney asks where this leaves the #MeToo movement
For a man known for decades in Hollywood as a giant in status, stature and ego, Harvey Weinstein cut a particularly small and pathetic figure in court this week. Flanked by helpers and using a walking frame (following surgery, after a car accident over the summer), Weinstein shuffled out of a civil hearing in a New York court this week after reportedly reaching "a tentative $25m [€22m] deal with accusers".
In a civil case against Weinstein's studio, if accepted, the monies will be paid out to dozens of women who have accused the disgraced producer of preying on them.
Weinstein and the associates and directors of his now bankrupt film studio have negotiated a settlement of almost all the civil cases pending against him, to the tune of around $47m (€42m): $25m of this will go towards compensating the women in question; $6.2m (€5.5m) will go to 18 women who sued Weinstein independently; and the rest will be set aside as a settlement fund. Of the $47m, $12m (€10.7m) will go to lawyers of the directors.
The terms set out in the settlement, which was allegedly two years in the making and has yet to be finalised, means Weinstein would not have to admit to any wrongdoing. As for the $25m tab, it transpires the Weinstein Company's insurance companies will sort that out.
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Some of Weinstein's alleged victims have, not surprisingly, objected to the settlement. Zoe Brock, one of the first women to break her silence over Weinstein's conduct, is quoted as saying: "This settlement breaks my heart. I have signed it only because I have explored every other legal option and, at this point, have found no alternative."
In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Brock elaborated: "I know this man did terrible things and was helped by multiple people. And because of this settlement, none of them will be held accountable. It's a blanket settlement that will protect every employee of the Weinstein Company and [his former studio] Miramax.
"I can't do anything," she added. "The system has failed me. I don't matter. I'm just at a loss. And I wish I could've done more for all the other women who have yet to come forward, who have been to scared to come forward, for whom we said we could carry this fight and we could do this. I feel like we've failed."
Another victim voiced her objection via her lawyer. Alexandra Canosa's solicitor said in a statement: "Our client is being presented with a 'choice' of accepting an unfair settlement... or proceed against a company that has been stripped of all assets and against our client's abuser, whose defence will be funded by the very agreement she has turned down. There is nothing fair or just about this."
Anti-sexual harassment campaign group Time's Up tweeted: "If this is the best the survivors could get, the system is broken."
Yet one plaintiff backing the deal, Louisette Geiss, told the Associated Press news agency: "This settlement will ensure that all survivors have the chance for recovery and can move forward without Harvey's damaging lock on their careers."
Much of the blowback surrounding Wednesday's event has surmised that, given his back catalogue of alleged misdemeanours, the civil system has gone relatively easy on Weinstein. With no admission of any wrongdoing and Weinstein not needing to pay out so much of a dime of his money, the message seems clear: the system is still weighted heavily in favour of alleged perpetrators, and not necessarily their victims. And really, if the penalty is this paltry, is it any wonder - even post #MeToo - that this sort of behaviour keeps on happening?
Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, observes: "So many people never get to use civil law in these circumstances, as the person who carried out the offence often has no money, or they don't want to go through the court system.
"Bringing this claim comes about through someone who has suffered damage by someone else, and there is recognition that the damage has caused them harm, and that the harm has to be compensated for. Certainly we find in the Rape Crisis Centre that, very often, people come because they're looking for healing for themselves, but also for accountability. They want that acknowledgment that harm was done.
"It's not a full indication of what happened, but an indication that all of those professionals, including those in the insurance company, recognise the validity of their claim, and recognise it within the context of what we value in society, which is money."
Weinstein will, of course, face the criminal system on January 6 on rape and sexual assault charges, which he denies. He is accused of raping a woman in a hotel room in the New York borough in 2013, and of performing a forcible sex act on a second woman in 2006. He also pleaded not guilty in August to two additional charges of predatory sexual assault over an alleged rape in 1993, although these cannot be prosecuted because of time limits.
Yet if convicted, he could face life in jail.
Of the pending criminal trial, Brock has said: "I live best in a worst-case scenario situation because the worst-case scenario keeps happening. I'm imagining a worst-case scenario where he will get off and make a comeback, because that's where I feel safest at this point."
On this point, public opinion remains divided. Some opine that Hollywood's true currency is cold opportunism, and there's really no such thing as bad publicity. Besides, if Weinstein can find hit scripts and create hit movies, as he has always done, the money will soon follow.
Yet the general consensus is that Weinstein has been banished from the business, and now that his bullying tactics are no longer an open secret, he has lost some of the fearsome power that kept him at the top of the pile.
Whatever the outcome of the criminal case, Noeline Blackwell considers it highly unlikely that Weinstein will be able to make any kind of career comeback.
"I think he is in a different age now, and there's a new generation. I do not see him managing to re-engage with society the way he did. If he does, it's a poor reflection on the rest of us who will have allowed that to happen without protest.
"I cannot see money following Harvey Weinstein ever again, but if it happened, I'd consider it a huge disappointment. I will feel those of us aiming for a just society won't have done our job."