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Weinstein and Masterson trials highlight uphill battle to tackle sexual violence: experts


Harvey Weinstein and Danny Masterson are among celebrities whose lawsuits over sexual assault allegations have amplified the #MeToo movement, shining a light on how industries and law enforcement handle claims of sexual harassment and sexual violence .

#MeToo, a social movement born in 2017 against sexual abuse, harassment and rape, compels elected officials, investigators and the media to dig deeper into the issue and take action to address it.

“The real success of #MeToo is its part in the evolution of consciousness and cultural change,” Naomi Mezey, Agnes Williams Sesquicentennial Professor of Law at Georgetown Law, told ABC News.

In this Jan. 6, 2020, file photo, protesters gather as Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan courthouse for the start of his trial in New York City.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images, FILE

And now the movement is entering another chapter, highlighted by high-profile court cases involving two famous men.

Harvey Weinstein, whose behavior reignited the #MeToo movement after sexual assault allegations became public, and ‘That 70’s Show’ actor Danny Masterson face rape charges in criminal court in two separate cases in Los Angeles. Weinstein is currently serving a 23-year sentence for his 2020 rape and sexual assault conviction in New York.

Cheryl Bader, an associate clinical professor at Fordham Law School, told ABC News that the essays will highlight key aspects that the movement has worked to highlight and may prove influential.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of progress, but there’s still a lot to do,” she said.

Harvey Weinstein

Weinstein is currently on trial in Los Angeles for allegations of rape and sexual assault by five different women in incidents that occurred between 2004 and 2013, prosecutors said. The disgraced Hollywood figure, who is appealing his conviction in New York, claims the sex with the women was consensual.

Melissa Sanchez, professor of English and director of the Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, told ABC News that while Weinstein was convicted in court and in court in public opinion, it is always important that prosecutors take every case brought before them by their accusers.

PICTURED: Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on October 4, 2022 in Los Angeles.  Harvey Weinstein has been extradited from New York to Los Angeles to face sex-related charges.

Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on October 4, 2022 in Los Angeles. Harvey Weinstein has been extradited from New York to Los Angeles to face sex-related charges.

Etienne Laurent-Pool/Getty Images

“One thing you can say about the new series of trials in Los Angeles is that they confirm just how significant the long-term and large-scale effects of Weinstein’s alleged sexual violations were,” he said. Sanchez to ABC News. “By judging it in many jurisdictions, it adds scope and scale.”

Mezey said Weinstein’s second trial also reinforces one of the key cultural shifts that came from the #MeToo movement: that victims will be heard by law enforcement and their claims will be taken seriously.

“It’s less about jumping on a fallen man or making sure he stays in jail. It’s more about the little vindication victims can get and the justice system itself recognizing these cases,” she said. “Even when it’s a symbolic victory, it can be very powerful for both the victim and the justice system.”

Bader added that the Weinstein lawsuit will continue to put pressure on the entertainment industry and other companies that have done little to address these issues.

“The #MeToo movement has shown that these situations are not insurmountable,” she said.

Danny Masterson

Masterson’s criminal trial began Tuesday and is taking place under the shadow of his involvement with the Church of Scientology.

The three accusers, one who was Masterson’s girlfriend, another who was a friend of Masterson’s personal assistant and one who was an acquaintance, allege the actor sexually assaulted them in three separate incidents that took place. took place between 2001 and 2003.

Masterson, who has pleaded not guilty and asserted in each instance that the sex was consensual, is a longtime Scientologist. Two of the victims claim they went to church to discuss the alleged incidents and say they were told that if they reported it to the police they would be ostracized by their friends and even family members, have prosecutors said.

In a statement to ABC News, the Church of Scientology said, in part, that it has “no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting the criminal conduct of Scientologists, or anyone else, to law enforcement. “Quite the contrary. Church policy explicitly requires Scientologists to abide by all laws of the land.”

The Church added: “While [it] will not comment on an ongoing criminal case, we know that the women’s slanderous allegations about the Church are completely and utterly untrue…The Church has never harassed, threatened or attacked these women.”

PHOTO: In this Sept. 18, 2020, file photo, actor Danny Masterson stands with his attorney Thomas Mesereau as he is arraigned for rape at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles.

In this Sept. 18, 2020, file photo, actor Danny Masterson stands with his attorney Thomas Mesereau as he is arraigned for rape at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles.

Lucy Nicholson, Pool via Getty Image, FILE

Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo reminded the attorneys that Scientology would not dominate Masterson’s trial.

Mezey said the alleged church involvement should be secondary to the actual allegations.

“It has the potential to be a bit of the salacious gossip of notoriously secretive Scientology. It would be a shame because there is a real case here with alleged victims,” ​​she said.

Sanchez also said that while the rape allegations should be the focus of the trial, the church’s alleged cover-up charges should not be ignored.

PICTURED: In this November 12, 2017, file photo, Brenda Gutierrez, Frances Fisher and Tarana Burke participate in the #MeToo Survivors March and Rally, in Hollywood, California.

In this Nov. 12, 2017, file photo, Brenda Gutierrez, Frances Fisher and Tarana Burke take part in the #MeToo Survivors March and Rally, in Hollywood, California.

Chelsea Guglielmino/FilmMagic via Getty Images, FILE

She noted that other religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, have been accused of covering up sexual assaults by abusing their influence over their followers.

“With all cases, you have a world that the victims wanted to be part of. You also have the authority that certain industries and religions have over those followers,” she said.

The future

Whatever the outcome of the trials, Sanchez said they will inspire the public to think about how institutions enable male power and prevent any real consequences of the exploitation of women.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 10, 2020, file photo, women protest rape in court as Harvey Weinstein attends a pretrial session in New York City.

In this Jan. 10, 2020, file photo, women protest rape in court as Harvey Weinstein attends a pretrial session in New York City.

Kena Betancur/Getty Images, FILE

Mezey said she hopes the celebrity angle doesn’t detract from the broader message of the #MeToo movement, which is that sexual harassment and violence isn’t limited to big names or just the workplace.

“One of the downsides of the celebrity lawsuit is that it can lead you to believe it’s a problem in Hollywood… when in fact it was for hundreds of years a basic reality for many women. “, she said.

“While these are important cases on their own, I would hate for them to be representative of the #MeToo movement and the overall importance of the #MeToo movement.”

ABC News

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