18:24 GMT04 December 2020
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    Harvey Weinstein - once one of the most powerful men in the US film industry - faces years in jail for abusing actresses and ingénues. Sputnik spoke to Hina Belitz, a British employment lawyer, about sexual predators in the workplace.

    Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein will be sentenced on Wednesday, 11 March, after being convicted of sexual assaults which spanned several decades.

    Weinstein, 67, was convicted in New York last month of sexually assaulting a woman in 2006 and raping another female in 2013.

    ​He is the biggest name to be brought crashing to the ground in the wave of historical sexual abuse allegations which became known by the hashtag #MeToo.

    Actor and comedian Bill Cosby, 82, who once openly joked about drugging women in his stage act, was jailed for three to 10 years in 2018 for sexually molesting a woman in 2004.

    Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch
    © AP Photo / Richard Drew
    Roger Ailes (left, who sexually assaulted several employees) seen here with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch

    Roger Ailes was forced to resign as CEO of Fox News in 2016 after presenter Gretchen Carlson and several other women accused him of sexually inappropriate behaviour. He died the following year, aged 77, since when it has emerged that he sexually assaulted a number of women at Fox News.

    Weinstein, who could be jailed for up to 25 years, was moved to the hospital wing of New York City's notorious Rikers Island jail last week after undergoing a heart procedure.

    ​The former movie producer, who now faces another trial in Los Angeles, was also accused of sexual assault by 10 women in the UK and the allegations dated back to the 1980s.

    Hina Belitz, a senior employment and settlement agreement lawyer at Excello Law in London, said the Weinstein case was “absolutely shocking” and she said the most upsetting thing was how long the wall of silence around him had been maintained.

    ​“Nobody had the courage to stand up to him,” she said.

    Ms Belitz said she hoped #MeToo had made men in powerful positions rethink their attitudes and she said her message to them would be: “If you want the best for your workforce then this is not going to achieve that aim.”  

    Weinstein produced a string of hit Hollywood movies - Lord of the Rings, The King’s Speech, True Romance, Shakespeare In Love, and most of Quentin Tarantino’s films.

    ​Prosecutors said Weinstein’s sexual misconduct fitted a pattern over the decades - he would get young women alone in hotel rooms or other places before assaulting them, often tricking them into thinking that if they kept silent he would help their acting careers.

    Ms Belitz said she had represented one woman who had been sexually harassed in a “bedroom incident in a hotel” but she said most of her clients tended to have been victims of office-based abuse.

    ​She said: “Women often have a difficult time reconciling this behaviour and tend to be in a very delicate state. A lot of these cases tend to be settled out of court.”

    Ms Belitz said some cases involve Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) within Settlement Agreements by which both parties are sworn to secrecy over the allegations.

    She said: “The real problem we have is that the legal regime is not broken, but it’s failed. While I think a settlement might be the solution for the women in many cases, the lack of public humiliation for men who behaved badly means that they can continue and we saw that with Weinstein. How did he continue that long? He was extra powerful and revered.”

    Ms Belitz said her advice to any woman who suffered inappropriate behaviour in the workplace was to take legal advice and also to contact their employer’s human resources (HR) department who she said would usually take the correct steps.

    ​But she said the difficulty was in companies where the founder or owner wielded enormous power and was answerable to nobody.

    “In those cases it can be difficult because the HR people will be worried about challenging their behaviour,” Ms Belitz said.

    She said #MeToo had forced many firms to initiate sweeping changes to their male-dominated corporate cultures.

    ​Ms Belitz said: “#MeToo has been a wonderful thing to have happened. There has been a tremendous shift. I am very impressed by some banks which have taken huge steps.”

    “There were a lot of places where a culture of sexual harassment and lewd comments existed. It’s no defence to say that nobody else complained. Legally there is no watermark. It’s usually down to whether the woman found it offensive,” Ms Belitz said.
    Hollywood, sexual harassment, MeToo, Harvey Weinstein
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