Despite two months passing since the New York Times reported the many allegations of sexual misconduct against producer Harvey Weinstein, he's faced very few legal consequences. That might just change after this latest lawsuit from six women.
According to The L.A. Times, scriptwriter and actress Louisette Geiss and actresses Katherine Kendall, Zoe Brock, Sarah Ann Thomas, Melissa Sagemiller, and Nanette Klatt have all previously gone public with their stories about Weinstein, and are now suing the movie mogul on the grounds of racketeering, civil battery, assault, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The L.A. Times reports that other defendants listed in the class action suit include Robert Weinstein, Miramax, and former Weinstein Company board members Dirk Ziff, Tim Sarnoff, Marc Lasry, Tarak Ben Ammar, Lance Maerov, Richard Koenigsberg, and Paul Tudor Jones.
The racketeering claim, specifically, refers to much of what was reported in the New York Times on Tuesday night. Digging deeper into Weinstein's circle revealed that he seemingly used his employees to create what the lawsuit refers to as the "Weinstein Sexual Enterprise." As detailed by both the Times and the New Yorker, Weinstein hired spies to take down both accusers and reporters who were working to tell their stories, and required his employees and assistants to orchestrate many of the liaisons the 80-plus women have come forward about. (Weinstein responded to the initial allegations in a statement to the New York Times)
The Daily Beast reports that Weinstein is accused of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a criminal statute that forbids organized criminal activity, with a provision that allows people like these six plaintiffs to bring a civil claim. The plaintiffs' attorney Steve Berman told The Daily Beast that Weinstein's "army of spies" was facilitating and orchestrating repeated sexual misconduct via wires and mail, and then covering it up.
However, RICO is broad and complicated, and while it garners a lot of attention in the press, attorney Jeffrey E. Grell, whose work primarily focuses on RICO, told Refinery29 that it might not be the most effective way to bring Weinstein down.
To successfully sue someone for racketeering, the plaintiff must be able to prove injury to business or property — not body or mind. As Grell explained to Refinery29, all six women have to allege that Weinstein's actions cost them their careers, and since it's a class action lawsuit, all of the plaintiffs have to have what's called commonality of fact, or have been "injured" by the same device. Put simply, all six women have to prove that they would have been successful actresses were it not for the alleged Weinstein Sexual Enterprise, and that it was the same action by Weinstein and his "army" that brought each of them down. And even then, what are the damages? Can we successfully predict the scope of someone's hypothetical career?
If that sounds bleak, Jennifer Long, the CEO of AEquitas: The Prosecutors' Resource on Violence Against Women, pointed out a more hopeful truth.
"Anytime anything is done for the first time, there isn't a precedent for it, so of course it's going to be more difficult than when it's been done before because the more times something has been prosecuted, the more there is somewhat of a blueprint," Long told Refinery29. She believes that it's worse to not pursue a case and therefore not bring these allegations to light — something AEquitas is trying to change with its Sexual Assault Justice Initiative — than to wade through a complicated case that could ultimately make change.
"That's why an investigation is so important, and talking to people, and listening to the reports and following up on them," she continued. "I think the fact that this is getting investigated and looked at — and there's different powers that civil attorneys have and different powers that criminal attorneys have — sometimes civil lawyers are the ones that are breaking ground through their depositions and other investigations. If they pursue where the facts lead them, maybe they're going to uncover some things that were not uncovered in cases that were not followed up on."
Currently, Weinstein is being investigated by the LAPD, NYPD, and the Scotland Yard, to name a few. Just like how the first woman to come forward about Weinstein paved the way for the following 80 women (and counting), the women making legal moves against the producer open the doors for fellow survivors to do the same, sending a message that Weinstein and other accused men can't hide in hopes that the accusations will fade away. Women deserve justice, and finally, they just might get it.
Refinery29 has reached out to Harvey Weinstein for comment.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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