New York’s Court of Appeals, in a 4–3 decision on April 27, overturned Harvey Weinstein’s historic conviction.  This decision came as a result of an appellate argument that the original trial wasn’t conducted fairly because the prosecution called on witnesses to testify to crimes on which the conviction wasn’t based. 

Harvey Weinstein is perhaps one of the most infamous sexual criminals of our time. In 2017, two New York Times journalists–Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey—broke the story that the powerful and prominent film producer had been harassing, assaulting, and raping female colleagues for decades. The article highlighted not only the horror and scale of the crimes, but the comprehensive abuse of power that allowed all of these offenses to remain covered up for years, and that kept almost a hundred women silent. When the story broke, it propelled a global conversation about workplace abuse—and it sent Weinstein to trial, and to jail. 

And now, he might get out. 

Well, sort of: Weinstein was tried in both a New York and California court, and for the time being, his California ruling remains upheld. But the ruling in the New York appeal marks a devastating development in the story of power abuse and justice. For many, this overturning is a tragic failure of the court system to stand up to some of the most powerful and evil abuses of power. One of Weinstein’s victims, Caitlin Dulany, reported that she was, “deeply saddened and absolutely devastated by today’s ruling,” in a statement to USA TODAY.

When the overturning story broke, Jodi Kantor, one of the writers of the original exposé, wrote an article about what she characterized as Weinstein’s real and unpunished crime: he had robbed dozens of women of their careers. He used his power to assault employees—usually new, young, and ambitious ones. As for the women who didn’t speak out, many were too traumatized to continue working for him and paid the price of leaving the most prestigious employer in the industry. For those who did attempt to speak out, Weinstein used his power to punish them—a crime that never was, or can be, punished. 

This point is extendable. Weinstein’s offenses were never going to be properly adjudicated in trial for many other reasons. For one thing, only two out of the dozens of victims ever even made it to court. For those two women, how could Weinstein’s jail time account for the assault on dignity, for the shame and fear, for the lost career opportunities?

For all those other women, the stress, pressure, or trauma never allowed them to get there. Or the statute of limitations on Weinstein’s crimes had expired, making the law no longer applicable. Or the harassment that they faced at his hands wasn’t considered a criminal offense and didn’t fit cleanly into legal parameters. Or the case was too hard to prosecute because of circumstantial evidence. Or the women did report the crime and settled the offense in a criminal court and were now bound by a non-disclosure agreement. Or a million other reasons. The point is, a court could never deliver the justice they deserved to each and every victim. It’s a mistake to measure the outcome of the Weinstein story in terms of prison years because that’s never what it was about. 

In this regard, Kantor is exactly right: Weinstein will never be tried for the full extent of his crime. But I think something else is also true: Weinstein’s trial was never meant to be in the court of law. If we choose to measure the impact of Weinstein’s exposure through the law, we will never properly understand or give credit to the truth.  

Harvey Weinstein’s horrors came not only from his criminal actions, but from his structural use of power. He wielded a benevolent and revered reputation to lure women into his hotel room; he used huge financial resources to pay off any legal suits; he shut down any news article and any survivor who attempted to call him out. More than that, he operated in a social structure that allowed for workplace abuse, blamed women for inappropriate activity, and locked women into silence. In short, so much of the horror came from social norms and social power which enabled his crimes. 

So Weinstein’s trial wasn’t legal, it was social. He kept silence amongst colleagues, customers, friends, news outlets, and viewers, and so they were his judge and jury. That’s why the most important moment of his sex crime scandal came when the news article broke: because Weinstein relied on silence, and the silence was broken. 

In the court of the world stage, Weinstein lost. 

On a personal level, Harvey Weinstein lost. Where he once held huge industry esteem and connections that safeguarded his crimes, he now holds nothing. His industry has rejected him as a criminal, and his name is irreparably tarnished. His Google search doesn’t produce news of new films or great deals, but rather articles about his victims and the details of his crimes. For decades, he stole jobs, voices, authority, and dignity from his victims. Whether or not our court of law prosecutes him, let’s be clear: his name is tarnished, his power is gone, his legacy is tainted. Harvey Weinstein will never be an innocent man again.

This is true on a more societal level as well. The foundations of Weinstein’s crimes were deeply embedded social and professional norms. And through the efforts of journalists, victims, and effective social organizing, these norms got challenged on a much higher level. 

After the exposé of Weinstein in Kantor and Twohey’s original article, dozens of Weinstein’s victims took to social media and news channels to tell their stories. Then victims of other powerful male perpetrators came forward—all under the hashtag #MeToo. In 2017, Tarana Burke started an organization called ‘me too.’, confronting sexual violence—particularly against Black women, which spread awareness about social norms that enable rape and assault, provided resources to victims, and applied political pressure to reproductive justice and sexual violence prevention. Organizational effort and advocacy combined with a massive social media effort challenged the very core of social norms that allow sexual violence. Norms surrounding the discussion of assault, which had previously been of suspicion and blame, came into question. Concerns about reporting and resources surfaced. Expectations for workplace conduct and respect became an international conversation. 

It would be reductive to measure the success of #MeToo and Weinstein’s exposé in legal trials and prosecutions. It fails us on two counts: it ignores the dimensions of this problem and the dimensions of justice and catharsis that victims might need and won’t get. It also simplifies the astounding effort and success of the survivors, journalists, and organizers in breaking the silence. 

Our news cycle moves very quickly, and we often don’t get the chance to reflect on breaking stories from the past. But this story’s revival gives us the opportunity to remember, rethink, and respect the journalism and activism of 2017. We could view the overturning as a devastating legal failure, proof that our courts will never get justice for the victims who deserve it. Or we could consider, with honesty, that those courts were never going to give women catharsis in the first place. We could instead use this recent news update to celebrate, not mourn, the real court where Weinstein was tried and the real verdict we reached. 

Weinstein’s exposé and the subsequent social movement may very well be one of the most successful social movements of our lifetime, shifting norms about workplace etiquette and sexual violence that fundamentally change how we talk about and think about the subject. We witnessed some of the best journalism, most courageous survivors, most productive use of social media, and more universal conversations about sexual violence perhaps in our entire lifetime. When we think about Harvey Weinstein, we shouldn’t measure his horrors in court inducements, but rather in the flood of stories spread across the news. So when we measure his justice, we shouldn’t count it in jail years but rather in the numbers of voices–from writers and workers and organizers and survivors–in a world where he wanted silence. 

Julia Schroers is a member of the class of 2027 and can be reached at