In October, Weinstein's team said I was trying to squash due process, when in fact he is trying to buy his way out of due process with this settlement.
A month and a half ago, Harvey Weinstein attended a fundraiser at Downtime Bar in downtown New York City. The show, designed to raise money for Suicide Prevention Centre of New York, was put on by Actor’s Hour and Fundraiser Underground. I am a comedian, and I had performed in Fundraiser Underground’s last show, so they sent me a ticket on the house. This was a speakeasy event; you only knew the address after receiving a ticket. It was also an event for and by artists. All of these factors contributed to my shock when Weinstein showed up to such an intimate event, and I was even more upset to learn this was the second Actor’s Hour event he had attended since being accused of multiple sexual assaults.
Half a million dollars may seem like a lot, but that sum can be deceiving.
I was one of three people who confronted Weinstein that night. My friend and fellow comedian Kelly Bachman called him out from the stage. Zoe Stuckless, a talented actor attending the show, yelled at the room for saying nothing about him being there. I went to Weinstein’s table and told him to his face that Zoe was right; he was a monster that didn’t belong in this space. There was more, but to be honest, I’m not clear on everything I said. I am a survivor of sexual assault. When I saw the infamous Harvey Weinstein, a man who more than 80 women have accused of sexual assault, in that space — a space that I thought was safe — I dissociated. My memory of that confrontation is hazy. I know I used expletives, and I wasn’t polite. Some might have called my diatribe downright rude. I wrote a whole thread about the Twilight Zone-type experience on Twitter the next day. It is ironic to me that Weinstein’s representative said what Kelly, Zoe, and I did was “an example of how due process today is being squashed by the public,” when in fact, it is Weinstein who is attempting to squash due process by buying his freedom.
Last week’s New York Times piece about Weinstein’s pending settlement with dozens of his alleged victims brought the event to the forefront of my mind again. Weinstein will reportedly settle with dozens of women in the civil suit brought against him. I believe this is because, as the linguist, political theorist, and activist Noam Chomsky wrote in Language and Politics: “Capitalism is basically a system where everything is for sale, and the more money you have, the more you can get. And, in particular, that's true of freedom. Freedom is one of the commodities that is for sale, and if you are affluent, you can have a lot of it.”
When I saw Harvey Weinstein in the Actor’s Hour audience that October night, Chomksy’s words rang in my head. This affluence is what allowed Weinstein, a man accused of crimes including rape, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct, to continue to buy his freedom and appear at the fundraiser. It is also what allows the fallen film titan — who was once estimated to be worth $300 million — to avoid paying one cent of his own money to the survivors involved in the settlement. Insurance companies representing the Weinstein Company will foot the bill. (Weinstein continues to deny all allegations of sexual assault.)
In our system, the right to a speedy trial only applies to the defendant. If the defendant waives that right, a case like this can go on for years. This is how Havey Weinstein continues to buy his freedom. Most people could not afford the original $1 million (£735,000) bail, let alone the $5 million (£3.7m) bail Weinstein just paid, after tampering with his ankle monitor. Weinstein has been living freely in a rented home in Westchester County, NY. Though he has an ankle monitor, and certain conditions set, he was still somehow allowed to go to a club filled with exactly the type of people who have accused him of sexual assault. He is able to afford top legal defense, experienced in defending men accused of sexual misconduct. He could also afford the ex-Mossad agents he hired to track survivors and journalists working to expose him, and further silence them. Now, most of his accusers won’t ever get to take him to trial.
Weinstein is not only buying his freedom, he’s also buying his innocence in the civil suit.
The news about this pending resolution hit me hard. Not just because I am a survivor of sexual assault. I have also been through a settlement case, unconnected to my assaults. I know the money goes very quickly. When I looked at the $25 million (£18.8m) settlement split among dozens of alleged survivors and legal fees, I got worried. I’m concerned not only that this isn’t enough, but worse — that the accusers will go into debt because of this settlement. Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor reported in The Times that “18 of the alleged victims would split $6.2 million (£4.7m), with no individual getting more than $500,000 (£3,700).” Half a million dollars may seem like a lot, but that sum can be deceiving.
Weinstein’s lawsuits have been dragging on since October 2017. Legal battles are traumatic in and of themselves, but these women have been forced to relive and re-prove their assaults for the last two years. My legal battle cost me a lot of therapy sessions, and I was suicidal during a lot of it. I can’t imagine that these women had an easy time taking care of their physical and mental health during this ordeal and that care is expensive. I’m sure many of them had to take time off work for this case; they lost money and career growth during that time. Their personal lives and relationships undoubtedly suffered as well. Not to mention the money spent on pints of cookie dough ice cream, pillows to punch, and drywall patching kits (for when the pillows don’t cut it).
I believe that dragging the case out was a tactic of Weinstein’s attorneys. The Times piece said the insurance company is paying out the settlement, in addition to $12 million (£9m) of Weinstein and his board’s legal fees. That’s a lot of very expensive and very good legal aid, which they used to drag out this case for 26 months until the plaintiffs were exhausted physically, emotionally, and capitally. $25 million (£18.8m) is not nearly enough for their anguish, but it probably feels like they have no other choice at this point. There is this set pot of money from the insurance company, and his accusers are faced with the decision of letting Weinstein’s legal team eat up more of that pot while they negotiate for more, or taking this settlement and trying to return to their lives. The Times report already noted the pot has dwindled significantly from the $90 million (£68m) victims’ fund that was projected by the studio last year. My heart breaks for them, and I hope they can get back to their normal lives successfully. If I could say anything to them, it would be: Thank you for fighting as long as you did.
Because The Weinstein Company has declared bankruptcy, you might wonder how Weinstein is buying his freedom. This is not personal bankruptcy; it is his company. His company’s insurance is covering everything, including the settlement. Even if he personally declares bankruptcy, it would still be Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He would have to liquidate some assets to pay off creditors, make a payment schedule for others, and some debts would likely be discharged or forgiven. Weinstein would simply move assets around a bit. He’s living quite comfortably at the moment, and he’ll never live hand to mouth. Even for surgery, he goes to a luxury wing of the hospital complete with original artwork and a private chef, according to this misguided Page Six interview. He is trying to buy sympathy with headlines of “bankruptcy” and “surgery.” Just like he was doing with his walker. If this settlement goes through, as it looks like it will, Weinstein doesn’t have to admit any wrongdoing. He’s not only buying his freedom, but he’s also buying his innocence in the civil suit.
Weinstein still faces a trial for five felony charges, two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree, one count of first-degree rape, and one count of third-degree rape. Originally scheduled for September 2019, his day in court is now set for January 2020. Will he finally face consequences for his actions? You can bet he’s working with his lawyers to buy more time and freedom.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the Rape Crisis hotline at 0808 802 9999.
Amber Rollo is a standup comedian, writer, actor, and one of the people who confronted Harvey Weinstein at a show in Manhattan on October 23.