Weinstein verdict highlights NC's low sex assault conviction rate

Joel Brown Image
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Weinstein verdict highlights NC's low sex assault conviction rate
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Weinstein verdict highlights NC's low sex assault conviction rate

A New York jury's split decision in the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault trial illustrates the public's often split-feelings when deciding what is sexual assault.

RELATED: Harvey Weinstein guilty of criminal sex act, 3rd-degree rape in New York City trial

"I just keep reminding myself we can't forget those survivors who shared their story who didn't get justice today," said Monika Johnson-Hostler, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

The disgraced movie mogul is now locked in New York's infamous Rikers Island jail convicted on two felony charges of sexually assaulting a production assistant and raping a woman seven years earlier. But the jury acquitted Weinstein of the more serious charges; Not guilty of first degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault.

"It speaks to the complexity of sexual assault cases, but more importantly (the complexity) of sexual assault laws," Hostler said.

In North Carolina, less than one in four sexual assault defendants are convicted; a statewide 24.2 percent conviction rate according to a recent analysis by Carolina Public Press which studied convictions from all 100 North Carolina counties from January 2014 through June 2018.

The numbers are above average in Durham and Orange counties. The conviction rate is high in Wake County. But according to the data, Lee, Harnett, and Franklin counties produced zero sexual assault convictions during the time period.

Hostler believes convictions are so rare because people won't accept sex assault happens as much and how often as it does. Or in the Weinstein case -- a disbelief that someone as rich, powerful and famous could be a predator.

"The third thing about sexual assault cases like this is not only do you have the court of criminal justice, but you have the court of public opinion. And those things often run simultaneously - which I think further complicates people's understandings of sexual assault," Hostler said. "I would say the reality is we still don't believe sexual assault happens. If you and I walk on Fayetteville Street now and ask people, 'do they believe sexual assault is prevalent?' I guarantee we'd get less than one in four."

Weinstein's attorneys pledge to appeal Monday's two convictions.

"When the verdict came in, Mr. Weinstein was shocked but stoic at the same time," said defense attorney Arthur Aidala. "There's been a calculated campaign against him since 2017."

The former Hollywood producer now awaits his March sentencing. Weinstein faces between five and 29 years in prison.