What does the overturning of the verdict against Harvey Weinstein mean for the MeToo movement and affected women in Germany? We spoke to activist and resilience trainer Alice Westphal (68), who herself was raped as a young woman.

FOCUS online: Admittedly, it’s not easy to start this interview…

Alice Westphal: Why?

Oh well. How do you ask a woman who was raped at gunpoint one morning in a public park what she thinks about the overturning of the conviction against ex-film producer Harvey Weinstein?

Westphal: Just ask. I am now something of a model victim who has been campaigning for a better way to deal with sexual violence and domestic violence for several years. Communication is a very important aspect. That’s why I and my partner would like to found an institute where those affected can receive training and further education on exactly this topic. It is not easy for those affected to keep talking about what happened. A lot can be triggered.

What does the current events surrounding Weinstein trigger for you?

Westphal: I’m angry. Wonderful, thinks the woman, now even fewer women affected by sexualized violence in Germany will report it. Even less than already.

Help us: How many women report the crime?

Westphal: Just over 150,000 a year. This is the bright field. The number of unreported cases is certainly higher, at least five to ten times as high.

Would you advise affected women to file a complaint?

Westphal: I am “in between”. First of all, I would like us to position ourselves more clearly on the topic in general, and for the whole thing to become more public. According to the Federal Ministry, every third woman is affected by violence at least once in her life. That would be twelve million women in Germany. These are not individual fates. There are structural reasons why so many women experience so much suffering.

Which are they?

Westphal: Where do I start? The unfair distribution of care work? When splitting between spouses? We live in a patriarchy, men and women are not equal. On this basis, abuse is easy. Of course: those who are addicted don’t fight back so quickly. In addition, it is really brutal to report abuse or rape as long as the victims are turned into perpetrators in court. I was raped in an open space back then. You are in survival mode and have two options: escape or fight. Most of those affected freeze. This means unimaginable stress for a court case in which I, as the respondent, have to remember as much as possible. And the procedure itself is far from everything.

What do you mean?

Westphal: In fact, I didn’t recognize the perpetrator when I was confronted by the police. There were five or six men standing in a mirrored room, I saw them, the men didn’t see me. There were countless potential reasons why I couldn’t possibly tell which of the men had raped me, such as it being so gray and raining that morning. But in reality there was only one reason: in survival mode, perception works differently.

How did a trial come about back then, even though you did not recognize the perpetrator beforehand?

Westphal: I contracted a sexually transmitted disease from him, and that was the deciding factor. Without this detail the man would have been released. But he almost was anyway.

What do you mean?

Westphal: The punishment for the rape wasn’t particularly high. Quite the opposite. The perpetrator was primarily punished for having a weapon without a license: the pistol he held to my head in the park.

How was the perpetrator punished?

Westphal: To be honest, I’ve ignored any further details. All I remember is that it seemed ridiculous.

Do you now recommend reporting or not?

Westphal: Under different circumstances I would definitely say yes. You know, a lot of things that are asked in court are hard to bear. I had to describe exactly what I was wearing. And what he was wearing. The whole thing can go so far that women are asked about the color of their pubic hair. Some have to relive situations in which they were victims. For example, if they go back to that hotel room ten or 15 years later and re-enact it there.

To be honest, all of this sounds more like a no answer to my question.

Westphal: I know. It is all the more important that we become aware of why this is the case. The framework conditions mentioned come from patriarchy. Look, seven male judges are said to have been at work in overturning the Weinstein verdict… How can that be? I’m not into the legal details. But everything I hear sounds to me like “Maybe it could be…”


Westphal: Weinstein is innocent? That is ridiculous. For me it’s obvious what’s going on. That the film producer’s lawyers are doing everything they can to make him look as good as possible.

Procedural errors are cited as the reason why the process has to be reopened. Women testified about Weinstein who were not part of the case.

Westphal: Yes, the women were not even co-plaintiffs, that is also my information. You know what? At the verdict four years ago, I celebrated the 80 women who helped shape the overall image of this powerful, massive man. The entire MeToo Germany movement celebrated these women.

Looking back: wrongly?

Westphal: Why? It is so important that those affected break their silence, the more the better. Only when feelings of guilt and shame are put aside and the silence falls silent does something start to move. This is the only way we can get out of the torpor.

At the price of questionable processing techniques?

Westphal: It may be that a better overall picture of Harry Weinstein would have included interviewing another 80 women. Women who only have positive things to say about me. I mean, everyone can think of their part. As far as the verdict is concerned, I don’t understand why the 80 women in question have now apparently tipped the scales. As far as I know, it mainly concerns two women who are said to have been forced into sexual acts by Weinstein. Nothing has changed in this situation or in the truth of their statements. But that’s actually not the issue at all.

What then?

Westphal: The trial is far from just about the film mogul and his victims, as we all know. My great fear is that we will experience regression in dealing with experiences of violence. Let us not forget: much of what we have fought for is still young. For example, marital rape has only been a criminal offense in Germany since 1997. By the way: MP Friedrich Merz, among others, voted against it at the time! There was no MeToo in 1997…

You just said that many of those affected are ashamed. Can you explain that?

Westphal: “I am wrong” – this thought ran like a red thread through my life for a long time. The rape in the park wasn’t everything, there was a previous story: the sexual abuse by my step-grandpa and five years that I lived in a violent relationship. Why didn’t I recognize that? Why didn’t I defend myself? Nothing said? These are also typical considerations of women with experience of abuse and violence. Many people think they are alone with what they have experienced and what they feel. With the 80 women who testified about Weinstein at the time, that has changed, at least a little bit.

And now?

Westphal: It looks like maybe something has just started moving temporarily. It’s the same pattern over and over again: a few women talk, but are then silenced. By the way, also in the media. Or have you read anything about Rammstein again? This is extremely demotivating for those of us affected. Nothing changes, everything repeats itself. I mean that literally for the lives of many of those affected. We know that two-thirds of women who experienced childhood abuse end up in violent relationships. You are, so to speak, conditioned.

What could that be?

Westphal: Absolutely clear: enlightenment. Prevention. Workshops, courses, even in kindergarten and school. Seen in this way, the Weinstein case comes at a very bad time for Germany. The coffers are empty and protection against violence is not something that is firmly anchored in political events. These are temporary projects and need to be requested again and again. A lot of things also happen at the state level. The financing of women’s shelters, for example. As if such safe spaces for women shouldn’t be a given in a patriarchal society.