The sight of Harvey Weinstein being handcuffed and bundled off to Rikers Island might have made some cheer, but it was a pitiful spectacle, more cause for a weary shaking of heads than the popping of champagne corks. I imagine, in fact, that for many of his victims, and for the two plaintiffs who won their cases, it will take a long time for the realisation fully to sink in that this particular alligator will never again crawl out of the swamp.

The great movie mogul could not have choreographed his own fall from grace more graphically than by leaning on a stroller and shuffling into court in plimsoles. He may have hoped to look defenceless and harmless, but the old-man theatrics merely added fuel to the suspicion that he is shamelessly manipulative and dangerous.

The verdict, mixed though it was, came as a huge relief. Although Weinstein was acquitted of two charges of predatory sexual assault he was found guilty of sexually assaulting production assistant Miriam Haleyi in 2006 and of raping actress Jessica Mann in 2013. As a result, he faces up to 29 years behind bars. Yet the time the jury took coming to their decision was unnerving. Many began to worry that, like Houdini, Weinstein would miraculously wriggle out of his chains, undo the padlock and with one bound be declared a free man. It didn’t bear thinking about, especially for those women who had summoned the courage to take him to court.

Normally I don’t like to consider someone guilty before they’ve had a fair trial. With Weinstein, however, the volume of accusations, from so many quarters, and the record of previous sexual harassment settlements, made the chances of him being found innocent the stuff of magical realism. Now, as he awaits sentencing next month, the #MeToo movement has been vindicated.

It nevertheless speaks volumes for the way our patriarchal world has been run that it took mass mobilisation, and in Weinstein’s case a torrent of similar horror stories – 80 or more – for him to be brought to justice. His incarceration is a victory for those who have suffered at his hands, but the implications of the two successful prosecutions go far deeper than any one person’s substantiation or closure.

Since voices were first raised against this industry leader’s rapacious behaviour, and women finally called him to account, there has been a shifting of tectonic plates. Old assumptions are now crumbling. If a man so omnipotent that Glenn Close could refer to him as a god can no longer evade retribution, then neither can presidents, celebrities or tycoons. Gone is the delusion that the mantle of power confers invisibility on criminal activity or that high office is a synonym for being above the law.

It is rare to watch history happening under our noses, but this trial’s outcome is a day to remember. In decades ahead, law students and feminists will study the legal proceedings and see the moment when finally, and in no uncertain terms, the sexual abuse of women was acknowledged for what it is: a violent, degrading and depraved misuse of power. And as with all sexual abuse, whoever the target, the aggressor’s actions are not about sex but domination. Every such act snuffs out the victim’s spiritual flame, and some are so traumatised they can never relight it. That is why a conviction like Weinstein’s is as much a cause for sorrow as joy, since behind it lie countless damaged individuals for whom justice has come too late.

What lies ahead? Eventually, you hope, a new climate in which women, and all who are abused, can expect to be taken seriously when they go to the authorities about the wrongdoing of someone who stands on a pedestal. An era of true equality in which the accuser cannot be intimidated or bought off, simply because they believe they have no hope of winning the day. And a legal system under which a man of Weinstein’s stature brings nothing of his privileged position into the courtroom beyond the most expensive defence lawyer in town. That dramatic levelling of the playing field is the real cause for celebration we can take from Weinstein’s downfall.

Sadly, despite the significance of his conviction, it won’t happen overnight. Revolutions take time, and there are always reversals, challenges and backlashes on the way to a better world. While that process gets underway, though, Weinstein’s crimes raise another troubling issue. One of his former personal assistants has said that she does not think he considers himself guilty of anything. She may be right. As the verdict was announced, Weinstein three times told his lawyers, “I’m innocent”. Even more chillingly, he was reported as having said to the women with whom he made out-of-court settlements, “Sometimes [I] don’t know when it’s consensual. Trying to learn. Maybe I don’t recognise my power in these situations.”

Perhaps he had worked too long in films, where fantasy and fiction are more convincing than reality. Maybe he’s just the kind of man who can’t imagine anyone turning him down. Probably he finds physical coercion a large part of the thrill. Whatever the reasons, the difficulty Weinstein seems to have with the concept of consent is disturbing in the extreme. And, although there is sexual abuse in every line of work, the movies seem to have an especially toxic culture in this respect. The way in which Weinstein was allowed to operate unchecked, despite years of rumours – including of rape – reveals an environment in which others either deliberately turned a blind eye or considered the infamous “casting couch” tradition an acceptable way for an actress to prove her worth. So what are those who enabled Weinstein’s repugnant behaviour thinking now? Can they sleep at night? Could they be called complicit?

Whatever their part in Weinstein’s disgrace, Hollywood needs to be brought into this century, and women treated not as objects for private gratification but as colleagues deserving of respect. Until that enlightened day dawns, the Weinstein verdict offers one bright assurance. The idea that someone’s status and influence will protect them from the law has at last been consigned to history. Others in high places now need to take care that their actions don’t lead to them, one day, also becoming a thing of the past.