Several of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers stood in front of a Manhattan courthouse on Monday morning, waiting to be heard. But for at least a few minutes, the throng of media tightly packed around them made sure that couldn’t happen. As actress Rosanna Arquette, one of Weinstein’s most prominent accusers, attempted to speak about why she was there, she was interrupted at least four times by male photographers and camera operators. “You’re ripping cables out!” and “Get the mic out of there,” they sniped at each other.
It got to the point where the whole thing started to seem like such a farce (a woman who alleges sexual assault being continuously interrupted by men while trying to speak — what else is new?) that Arquette threw up her hands in exasperation, laughed uproariously, and joked about this mishap being “orchestrated.” Finally, a few women shouted at the shot-hungry paparazzi, “Give these women some respect!” and she was able to begin.
Arquette was not alone on that cold January morning, the historic first day of Weinstein’s rape trial. As the accused rapist was escorted into the State Supreme Court, once again using a walker for ill-defined “back problems,” several other survivors joined her: actress Rose McGowan; Louise Godbold, a trauma advocate, educator, and actress; actress Dominique Huett; Sarah Ann Masse, an actress, writer, and singer; TV news reporter Lauren Sivan; and actress Paula Williams. They took turns addressing the media, and hugged each other in support after every speech. Anticipating Weinstein walking in, they stood in a designated pen in front of the courthouse holding signs that read “Listen to Survivors” as they faced their alleged abuser. Weinstein, surrounded by bodyguards and his legal team, didn’t look at them once as he came out of his black SUV and slowly made his way up the stairs.
Weinstein faces five counts of predatory sexual assault, criminal sex acts, and rape, for allegedly forcibly performing oral sex on former Weinstein Co. production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and the alleged 2013 rape of another woman, who has remained anonymous, in a hotel room. The predatory sexual assault charge is especially significant because it means Weinstein could potentially serve a life sentence. Plus, it would allow the prosecution to establish a history of predatory behaviour reaching beyond the two women in this case. While Weinstein’s accusers total more than 80, many of their claims fall outside the statute of limitations, and many of them have opted to pursue a recently settled civil case that has allowed them to avoid the media glare of a criminal trial.
In another blow for Weinstein, LA County prosecutors charged him with four separate counts of rape and sexual assault later on Monday.
Weinstein is, predictably, coming out with guns blazing. Actress Annabella Sciorra is expected to testify claiming that Weinstein raped her in 1993 in support of the predatory sexual assault charge, and Weinstein’s team is trying to disqualify her by saying she “has spent an entire life acting for a living.” His team has also apparently sent reporters at The Cut a 57-page PowerPoint presentation full of “opposition research” on accusers including photos of them "smiling, flirting" with him. (Trauma experts like Barbara Ziv, the forensic psychiatrist who testified at the retrial of Bill Cosby, say that it is common for survivors to maintain friendly relationships with their abusers, often out of fear.)
In December, Weinstein’s company reportedly reached a tentative $25 million (£19m) deal with dozens of accusers. The agreement would settle nearly every civil lawsuit brought against Weinstein. As part of the deal, Weinstein won't have to admit any wrongdoing or pay the accusers out of his own pocket. Instead, the money will be paid by insurance companies representing Weinstein's former production studio, which is now in bankruptcy proceedings.
Weinstein and his team are trying to resurrect his image in the press. He recently boasted about championing women in film and said he intends to "build back" his career if found not guilty. "I made more movies directed by women and about women than any filmmaker, and I’m talking about 30 years ago. I’m not talking about now when it’s vogue. I did it first! I pioneered it!" he told Page Six in a rare public interview in December. "My work has been forgotten."
In her speech at the press conference, Sivan (who has accused Weinstein of cornering her at a dinner party and masturbating in front of her), said he’s wrong about the last part. "We will definitely remember him," she said. "He put Me Too on the map, a movement that has taken over the country and the world."
In an interview with Refinery29, Sivan elaborated: “The legacy he leaves for women is starting this whole movement. If he wasn’t so prolific in his predatory behaviour, we wouldn’t all be here today. … I mean, 30 years of prolific sexual harassment and abuse should be forgiven because he green-lit Kill Bill 2? It’s a ridiculous argument, and I don’t think anyone’s buying it. Hopefully not the jury.”
30 years of prolific sexual harassment and abuse should be forgiven because he green-lit Kill Bill 2? It’s a ridiculous argument, and I don’t think anyone’s buying it. Hopefully not the jury.
Lauren Sivan, TV journalist
Survivors of sexual assault are at a higher risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, and facing an abuser can be an experience fraught with pain and fear. When asked during the press conference how she got up the courage to confront Weinstein publicly, Rose McGowan told Refinery29, “The courage inside is that little light that he couldn’t kill. And it grew, and it grew, and my rage grew. And with that, justice, because that’s the flip side. … Today I can smile, today I can be free. But how I get the courage is because living in silence is a death sentence to your soul. Because when you get killed by being raped, you carry around that dead person inside of you until you can find a way to birth it, and for me birthing that was using my voice.”
McGowan and the other women present were intent on making sure that the magnitude of Weinstein’s alleged crimes doesn’t get lost amid the media circus and increased scrutiny of the accusers. “We are here to ensure that the focus of this criminal case is on the perpetrator’s actions, not his victims, and that justice is served,” said Arquette.