2 women, 2 decisions: Going public on Harvey Weinstein
NEW YORK (AP) — Day by day, the accusations pile up, as scores of women come forward to say they were victims of Harvey Weinstein. But others with stories to tell have not.
For some of these women who’ve chosen not to go public, the fear of being associated forever with the sordid scandal — and the effects on their careers, and their lives — might be too great. Or they may still be struggling with the lingering effects of their encounters.
Canadian actress Erika Rosenbaum, 37, had just gone public with her own allegations of sexual misconduct by Weinstein when, about 10 days ago, she received a Facebook message from a young woman, asking if they could speak.
The aspiring filmmaker and actress had listened to Rosenbaum’s recorded interview with The New York Times, in which she described several disturbing incidents in hotel rooms with the producer some 15 years ago. And she wanted to tell Rosenbaum about her own, remarkably similar but much more recent experiences with Weinstein — a series of harrowing hotel-room encounters which, she says, took place just last year, when she was 21.
She told Rosenbaum that she’d developed a relationship with Weinstein, that was really two relationships: “One where he was very much a mentor ... and another that I kept locked inside a secret compartment in my mind where he was manipulating me in a way that I didn’t know how I’d got there, or how to get out.”
“It really was like speaking to myself at that age,” Rosenbaum says.
“I felt like I was talking to an older version of myself,” says the young woman.
She wanted Rosenbaum’s advice: Should she go public with her story? She wanted her experience to serve as a warning for other young women about what can happen in friendships with powerful older men. But she was just beginning her career, and worried about being tainted by association with the scandal. And because the encounters were so recent, she was only beginning to process it all.
Rosenbaum told her that going public was a personal decision, not right for everyone — “If she’s not ready to come forward, she’s not ready.”
The young woman has decided that for now, she is not. “I’m not Gwyneth or Angelina or Lupita,” she says of some of the most famous women who have accused Weinstein. “I think I deserve to build my career without being linked to Harvey Weinstein every time somebody Googles my name.”
As any advocate for victims of sexual harassment or assault will tell you, the decision of whether to come forward can be an excruciating one — even when the assailant is not a famous Hollywood figure.
“It is an agonizing decision for everyone,” says Jeanie Kurka Reimer, who’s spent 30 years working in the field of sexual assault in Wisconsin, as an advocate, therapist and consultant. But in a high-profile case like Weinstein’s, she adds, there’s yet another layer of difficulty. “You can’t ever take it back,” she says of the choice to go public. “It’s a life-changing decision.”
Anita Hill, a symbol for many women in the fight against sexual harassment, understands well why a woman, especially at the beginning of her career, would stay silent. “When a person has moved on and become a star, it’s easier for that person to be embraced and not feel the repercussions of speaking out,” says Hill, who was excoriated by many when she famously testified in 1991 that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her.
“But when they’re young,” she said in a recent interview, “it’s a big question mark as to how people are going to react. And they still have their lives to think about. There still can be a negative public reaction, even though we say (sexual harassment) is wrong.”
This is why, Hill and others note, many victims accept confidential settlements in sexual harassment cases. And, she notes, only a fraction of cases are even reported at all.
Though Weinstein’s rapid downfall — he was fired by his own company, and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and other groups — likely lessens the fear of retaliation, there remains the fear of being stigmatized. It’s a fear expressed even by an established actress like Anabella Sciorra, who alleged in The New Yorker this week that Weinstein had raped her in the early ’90s.
“Now when I go to a restaurant or to an event, people are going to know that this happened to me,” Sciorra told the magazine. “They’re gonna look at me and they’re gonna know. I’m an intensely private person, and this is the most unprivate thing you can do.”
Attorney Gloria Allred has brought four Weinstein accusers in front of cameras in recent days. But she says others have come to her who aren’t going public, and she’s certain there are many more out there. As Rosenbaum speculates: “I’m sure there are many young women who are too fresh from this experience to speak out. Most of the women we’ve heard from are over 30. There’s got to be a whole slew of young women that aren’t saying anything right now.”
Like Rosenbaum, the young woman, who related her story in multiple interviews with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, met Weinstein at a party. It was the spring of 2016. According to her account, Weinstein asked to see a film she’d made and gave her his cell number.
She called, eager for his mentorship. They met three times and simply discussed cinema. “Whatever you want to say, he’s a genius about film,” she says.
But then, after an evening event with Weinstein and others, they ended up back at his hotel, she says. She assumed everyone was meeting for dinner. They had a drink in his suite; still no others arrived. Suddenly, in a scenario that matches that of many accusers, Weinstein made a brief exit and returned naked, the woman alleges. He asked her to strip; she said no, repeatedly, but he kept negotiating. Eventually, the woman alleges, both were naked, and he convinced her to give him a massage and then lie on the bed as he masturbated.
Even before she left the room, she says she was blaming herself. “I’m feeling, ‘I did this,’” she recalls thinking. ”‘I put myself here, and now I have to clean up my mess.’” But she hoped it was just a one-time thing. And, she stresses, she wanted to keep the mentorship — and what she believed was a friendship — on track.
More meetings followed. Some, but not all, ended up in hotel rooms, she says. The woman says she refused to have intercourse with Weinstein. But she says he persisted in other ways, including pressuring her into oral sex. On three occasions, when she refused to participate in three-way sex, he directed her to watch him engage in activity with the other woman, she says. And what became “the norm,” she says, is that he would pleasure himself behind her as she stood naked in front of a mirror.
The young woman says she felt so debased and ashamed by these encounters that she lied to all her close friends and family, saying everything was above board. After nine months, she finally told her parents what had been happening.
“You’re going to hate me, you’re going to hate me,” she repeated over and over to her mother, according to the accounts of both women, weeping and shaking as they sat in the family car. She recalls even recoiling from her mother’s sympathetic hug, saying “I’m disgusting.”
Soon after, the young woman deleted all texts from Weinstein, she says. The AP has seen written journal entries referring to him, and emails of a non-intimate nature; it has also spoken to family members and her manager, who feel she should stay anonymous, given her young age and fledgling career.
Through a spokesman, Weinstein has consistently denied all allegations of non-consensual sex. (Representatives did not reply to repeated requests for comment on this story.)
The woman finds that questionable. “I said ‘No’ the first few times but then I just did it,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t have an option.” She adds: “I wasn’t sure what he would do if I said no. I had heard he could make someone completely obsolete in a second. I was scared of that.”
Rosenbaum, too, was in her early 20s when she met Weinstein. “I was the same age and probably a very similar young woman — a little bit of talent and ambition and brains,” she says.
She too ended up in a hotel room, where she alleges he coaxed her into a massage. She decided complying was the safe way out. “I didn’t want to humiliate the all-powerful Oz,” she told the Times.
The next time Rosenbaum found herself in a hotel room with Weinstein, the producer brought her into a bathroom, where, she alleges, he stood her in front of a mirror, held her by the back of the neck and masturbated behind her. She had one more encounter, in his office, where she says he also made sexual advances.
“He didn’t have a gun to my head, he didn’t wrestle me to the floor,” Rosenbaum told the Times of their meetings, which took place over an extended period. “I just didn’t know how to get out.” After that, she says, “I lied to cover my embarrassment and my shame,” keeping the secret from others.
But when the Weinstein story broke this month, Rosenbaum, who lives in Montreal, was in a far different place than she was 15 years ago. Now a mother of three small children, she says the intervening years had provided needed perspective. “My life is full and balanced in a way it wasn’t when I was young,” she says. “It’s bigger than just work. I see the long game now. That balance gave me the ability to be honest.”
Still, the decision to go public wasn’t simple. “I still very much believed that I could be blackballed as a troublemaker,” she says. Even now, when so many more women have come out, she says she realizes “there may well be people who don’t want to work with me. But there will also be people who do.”
She has been buoyed, she says, by the “sisterhood of women” who have been reaching out to her — some to thank her, others to tell their own stories.
As the young woman did. When they spoke by telephone, Rosenbaum says, one question the younger woman grappled with was how she had allowed herself to get into those unwanted sexual situations with Weinstein.
And then Rosenbaum told her something that she found comforting.
“I told her something about consent, that I did not know at her age,” Rosenbaum says. “I told her that if you’re afraid to say no, then it isn’t consent.”