In the opening arguments to Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial in Los Angeles this week, the producer’s defense lawyer pointed to his moldering, overweight client and asked the rhetorical question, “Do you think these beautiful women had sex with him because he’s hot?”
The inference is that poor Harvey was not going to get laid unless in exchange for what he provided in career advancement to conniving “Hollywood wannabes.”
That was not my experience as one of his victims. When I was chased around a conference table at a business meeting, or trying to flee a hotel suite, the last thing on my mind was my career: I just wanted to make it to the exit. Some women weren’t as lucky and became trapped by a solid wall of putrid flesh. Others went into a well-documented survival response to sexual assault and froze, praying it would soon be over. So where is the transaction? If Weinstein gave some women money in exchange for their silence, if he threw crumbs of favors to his victims who were desperate to claw back something as solace for what he had taken from them, these actions are no more commerce, a trading of sex, than hot pennies flung contemptuously to burn the hands of the poor.
Many of us who came forward to report Weinstein’s abuse did not profit then and do not profit now. We came forward because once we realized the extensive catalogue of victims, the inordinate number of lives marred by trauma, we knew that he would never stop and that only our truth that could bring him down.
Despite what the defense are claiming about us “milking” these horrific encounters with Weinstein, I did not have further interaction with Harvey after the assault. I ran away, humiliated, berating my stupidity for believing that an acquaintance was telling the truth when he said he would happily make introductions to help me find work in Hollywood. But the number of people who helped me after that date, offering advice and introductions, asking only to “pay it forward” in repayment, demonstrates that I hadn’t been naïve after all — I had just been unlucky enough to encounter a predator.
Seeking out people who are established in your chosen career for advice is customary among young people. Who hasn’t started their career as a “wannabe”? Harvey and his brother Bob, when they snuck into the Saturday morning pictures as kids, were wannabe film producers. Even Weinstein’s lawyer (who used the term to deride Jennifer Siebel Newsom, now an accomplished documentary filmmaker) was presumably a wannabe attorney when at law school. There is no shame in wanting a career. The guilt and shame belong to those with power who would abuse hopeful young people to satisfy their deviant sexual appetites. The only guilty party here is Harvey Weinstein and that is what his lawyer is at pains to make you forget.