It’s been more than two years since dozens of women came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein, then one of the most powerful forces in Hollywood, of decades’ worth of sexually predatory behavior. And yet, it’s only now that the legal system is coming close to answering the question of how Weinstein will be officially held accountable—or, rather, how he won’t. On Wednesday, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the New York Times investigative reporters behind the initial October 2017 Weinstein exposé, reported that Weinstein and his (now bankrupt) film studio have reached a tentative $25 million deal with more than 30 actresses and former employees who have accused him of sexual misconduct. Weinstein himself would not have to admit any wrongdoing, nor pay any of the women himself. If the deal goes forward—all major parties have approved it, according to several of the lawyers involved—nearly every civil lawsuit against Weinstein would end.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Weinstein avoids the maximum possible consequences. Since the allegations first came to light, he has had several accusers’ lawsuits against him dismissed by the courts; been permitted to delay his criminal trial; has used his cell phone in court; and violated the guidelines for his court-ordered ankle monitor no less than 57 times.
Outside of court, he’s spent his days getting to know a remote area of Arizona (where he picked up a habit of drinking green juice) and getting reacquainted with his former home of New York, from roaming Grand Central Terminal to even beginning a return to night life. (Some establishments would sooner kick out those who complain of Weinstein’s presence than Weinstein himself, as a run-in at a comedy club proved last month.) Sure, the 67-year-old’s reputation, company, and marriage have all dissolved. Under any other circumstances, those would be considered serious consequences. But for Weinstein, a man accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women, they somehow feel minimal.
As for how Weinstein is getting around paying the victims out of his own pocket, the insurance companies representing his former studio, the Weinstein Company, are planning to foot the bill. More than $12 million would go toward a portion of the legal costs for Weinstein, as well as for his brother Bob (who recently started his own production company) and a number of former Weinstein Company board members. They would also all be protected by the deal, which would require the accusers to drop their claims. Meanwhile, $6.2 million would be divided amongst 18 of Weinstein’s accusers, with none of them receiving more than $500,000. The rest of the money, $18.5 million, would be set aside for those who were a part of a class-action case. A court would decide how much each of those women received “based on the severity of the harm alleged.”
The Times spoke with a number of plaintiffs who have agreed to accept the deal—though not exactly voluntarily. Citing factors such as the legal system’s dismal track record on siding with victims, technicalities such as statutes of limitations, and Weinstein’s suggestion that he might soon declare bankruptcy, many expressed that they felt accepting the deal would be the only way to ensure that the women who are in a weaker bargaining position would be at all compensated. “I don’t think there’s a markedly better deal to be made,” Genie Harrison, a sexual harassment lawyer representing one of Weinstein’s former assistants, said. “We have really, truly done the best we can under the circumstances, and it’s important for other victims to know this, come forward and be able to get the best level of compensation we were able to get.”
All this only adds to the weight of Weinstein’s upcoming criminal trial, which is set to begin on January 6 at the New York Supreme Court. But even if the prosecution is successful—technically, Weinstein could end up in prison for life—a criminal verdict would have far less impact on the majority of Weinstein’s alleged victims than the legal negotiations behind the scenes. What’s more, the trial centers on allegations from just two of Weinstein’s alleged victims—one assault accusation from 2006 and one rape accusation from 2013.
Plenty of those who have accused and condemned Weinstein would like to see him behind bars. (Last year, Jennifer Lawrence, whom Weinstein reportedly cited as a success story for those he’d “slept with” to women who rejected his advances, bluntly stated: “I want to see him in jail.”) Even so, the trial’s lack of impact on the majority of Weinstein’s accusers raises the question of how, and if, they will ever see real justice—and what justice actually means in a system where powerful men like Weinstein are still able to buy their way out of accountability. As Rebecca Goldman, the COO of the Time’s Up Foundation, put it, “this settlement is more than a math problem—it’s a symptom of a problematic, broken system that privileges powerful abusers at the expense of survivors.”
Whatever justice may be, it sure doesn’t sound like what one of Weinstein’s accusers, the actress Katherine Kendall, told the Times about the deal: “I don’t love it, but I don’t know how to go after him. I don’t know what I can really do.” Caitlin Dulany, another actress who has accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, seemed to echo her sentiments. “Many of us are outside the statute of limitations, and we can’t have our day in criminal court with Harvey,” she told the Times. Despite its flaws, she continued, the settlement might at least “bring some justice and relief.”
More broadly, news of the settlement suggests that no case—no matter how high-profile, no matter how severe—will ever propel the courts to side with victims of sexual misconduct and assault. In the wake of equally disappointing cases like that of Bill Cosby, Weinstein has seemed like the only possible instance in which the criminal justice system might actually work. Two years ago, it seemed ludicrous—even offensive—that Weinstein could think he could defend himself with a fake lyric by Jay-Z. But increasingly, it looks like Weinstein was right; he never needed to provide anything more.