One by one, they decided enough was enough.
For decades, predators had relished subjecting women to the notorious practice of the Hollywood casting couch, threatening those who refused to slake their sick sexual appetites with career suicide.
And for decades, people turned a blind eye, dismissing the tales of rape and abuse as “just how things work”.
But in October 2017, as studios spewed out yet more superhero movies, the women of Hollywood decided to battle a seemingly all-powerful, unbeatable enemy of their own: Harvey Weinstein.
It started with Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd. Ten days later, dozens more women had come forward, some accusing the producer of threatening or groping them, others of rape. Some were famous, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, some were aspiring stars and others worked behind the camera.
Yet together, they would become the 87 women who changed the world.
On Monday “Uncle Harvey”, once the most powerful mogul in Hollywood, was convicted of third degree rape against ex-actress Jessica Mann and sexual assault against ex-production assistant Miriam Haley. He faces up to 29 years.
They were among the few women whose attacks were within the statute of limitations, allowing a prosecution.
But thanks to those 87 – dubbed the Silence Breakers – Weinstein, 67, is just one of thousands of offenders who will now pay for their actions.
The scandal sparked fresh momentum for a then little-known sexual harassment movement founded in 2006, #MeToo.
More victims opened up. Suddenly, the sort of institutional sexism, harassment and power abuse many had put up with for years was becoming less acceptable.
People were talking about what they had suffered without fearing for careers and victims the world over suddenly had a voice. The ripple effect made everyone reevaluate what was “OK”, what was “banter”, what was “just normal” and what was not.
It didn’t matter whether you were a hairdresser with a “handsy” boss in Newcastle, a Manchester office clerk drunkenly groped at the Christmas party, or an A-lister forced to watch Weinstein pleasure himself into a hotel pot plant. Thanks to #MeToo and then the Time’s Up movement, society finds it harder to turn a blind eye.
Weinstein’s actions were an open secret for years, as he racked up Oscars producing hits including Shakespeare in Love.
Brad Pitt confronted him in the 90s after he made a move on his then partner, Gwyneth Paltrow. Jolie had warned pals about him for two decades after a “bad experience” but didn’t go public until 2017. And Quentin Tarantino bravely admitted: “I knew enough to do more than I did.”
Weinstein’s abuse was so well known, actresses referred to being “Harveyed”.
As the boss of Miramax, then The Weinstein Company, he was typical of those who thought they could abuse power to satisfy their sexual appetite.
Now, the tables have turned and it’s him and those like him on their knees in desperation. Tarana Burke, a sexual violence survivor who founded #MeToo, said: “For so long, women believed he was untouchable. Now the justice system has found him guilty. That sends a powerful message.”
Since the scandal erupted, some 450 celebs, politicians and CEOs have been accused of sexual misconduct – from Kevin Spacey and Gerard Depardieu to the now-convicted Olympic physio, Larry Nassar.
Bill Cosby was jailed, Westminster is probing conduct, R Kelly found himself in a cell and Prince Andrew faced a quiz on Victoria Guiffre’s claims she was forced to sleep with him – which he denies.
Tarana said: “If it’s possible to galvanize people starting with a hashtag, to get them to stand up and raise their voices and be counted, and be a part of this global community, then so much more is possible. That’s a phenomenal leap from where we were 30 years ago.”
Of course, there has been another side. Some were damned as soon as they were accused, as Twitter acted as judge and jury. British actor Ed Westwick was cut out of BBC drama And Then There Were None after allegations of rape, only for police to later decide no charges would be brought.
Joanna Williams, author of Women Vs Feminism, says some claims are so trivial it undermines other victims.
She points to Joe Biden being damned for kissing someone on the head – and comic Aziz Ansari, who denied coercive behaviour when he was accused of trying to kiss a date after failing to spot “non-verbal clues” that she wasn’t interested.
She said: “If all these behaviours — rape, flirtation, picking the wrong wine — are thrown together, it risks giving the appearance that serious sexual assault and knee-touching are equivalent offences.”
Some have argued it will lead to a world where people are too scared to flirt or make jokes. Sean Penn says #MeToo aims to “divide men and women” and Brigitte Bardot called it “ridiculous”.
Certainly, extra restrictions are in place. Two-thirds of universities now offer sexual consent classes and lessons are being planned for kids as young as four.
In the US, several states have banned non-disclosure agreements to gag sexual harassment victims. The British government is reviewing sexual harassment law.
And one of the women who started it all says a bit of trepidation from lovelorn men is a small price to pay.
McGowan said: “It’s fine to flirt but it’s another thing when someone buys you a drink and thinks they own your hour. If you’re not grabbing people against their will, you should be OK.”
She was outside court Monday as Weinstein was convicted. She had accused him of raping her but it was too late to prosecute.
The same statute of limitations has stolen justice from dozens more victims. But on March 11, they will at least see him sentenced for something.
Weinstein remains defiant and his lawyer, Arthur Aidala, described him as “upbeat” yesterday. He was being taken to Rikers Island jail after his conviction in Manhattan but was instead admitted to Bellevue Hospital.
Aidala said it is up to medics when to release him, adding Weinstein is “flabbergasted by the verdict” and “cautiously optimistic” about his appeal.
It came as a group of the mogul’s accusers warned him his legal woes are not over and they intend to pursue him in the Los Angeles courts. But whatever else is to come for Weinstein, when the guilty verdict was read, the Silence Breakers had also won something far more important.
They won confirmation this was no longer a world in which Weinstein could bully his way to freedom.
That this was no longer a world where people get away with brushing sex offences under the carpet.
And that this is a world where everyone – be it a teen on a Saturday job in Norwich or a pop star – can finally be heard.
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