The Weinstein scandal: ‘Something inspiring has come out of something so awful’
A year on from #Metoo, the Weinstein survivors have united in a mission to make sure victims of sexual assault never feel alone again. Anna Silverman reports
‘ I WAS ONLY 23 when I was Harvey-ed,’ says Zoe Brock, one of the 100 or so women who have come forward to allege they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. It was 1998 and Zoe, then a model, was at the Cannes Film Festival. After a glitzy party, she says Weinstein tricked her into coming back to his room at the super-luxe Hôtel du Cap-eden-roc.
She accepted the invitation under the illusion that others would be joining them, but says she was persuaded under false pretences and suddenly found herself alone in his room. ‘My body went into high alert… Harvey left the room and reemerged naked and asked if I would give him a massage,’ she says. ‘Panicking and in shock, I remember weighing up the options and wondering how much I needed to placate him to keep myself safe.’
Zoe, now 44 and a writer, web designer and brand consultant in Australia, says Weinstein pleaded with her to let him massage her, so, terrified, she ran into the bathroom and locked the door. ‘He promised to cover himself and leave me alone if I came out,’ she adds. ‘ When I did, he was sitting on the bed in his bathrobe, crying. He whimpered, “You don’t like me because I’m fat.” I shouted that he had tricked me and told him to take me back to the yacht I was staying on.’
Zoe’s story bears a chilling resemblance to the tsunami of allegations that emerged against the Hollywood mogul a year ago this week. On 5 October 2017, The New York Times published an article cataloguing decades of accusations of sexual harassment that quickly led to Weinstein’s fall from grace – although his spokesperson responded that any
allegations of non-consensual sex were unequivocally denied by him.
Up until then, powerful perpetrators sailed through life unencumbered, exploiting a culture that relied on a victim’s silence. But last year, we saw that dam start to shatter and break. Not only did the Weinstein effect embolden women to share their own experiences – stories of #Metoo filled every social media feed – it galvanised his alleged victims to unite and stand with other survivors of abuse.
Zoe met Louise Godbold and Katherine Kendall – who both claim to have suffered similar experiences involving Weinstein in the ’90s – when they took part in a Power Women breakfast in Hollywood last October. Over the past 12 months they have connected over their shared experience of trauma, their drive and their desire to support each other and help other women.
‘ We began working on an organisation to provide a home for survivors,’ Zoe explains. ‘ We are a group of people who share a shitty experience and the courage to have spoken up about it because we wanted to change the world. I’ve made some beautiful friendships in the group and feel like some of us are real sisters.’
Originally, the women talked about starting a non-profit organisation, but now they are focusing on championing work that already exists. Their bond means boundless support for each other, too. Louise, 56, now a trauma specialist who lives in LA, has conducted training with many Weinstein survivors, where she teaches them about dealing with trauma and resilience.
‘Over the years I’ve told so many people the story it became a gross but humorous account about a famous asshole in Hollywood,’ Zoe adds. ‘But the #Metoo
movement made me unpack my own experience again and reframe Harvey from a mostly harmless pig into a dangerous rapist. It messed me up and I had to talk myself through the guilt of not going to the cops and not somehow stopping him from hurting all these other women. My conversations with Lou [Louise Godbold] really helped me get a glimpse into my own trauma and how it had impacted me.’
Louise’s encounters with Weinstein took place when she visited Miramax – Weinstein’s production company – to talk about an intern position in 1991, when she was 28. She had already known Weinstein for several years through her friend, the actor Lysette Anthony – who alleges Weinstein raped her. Louise, now 56 and still living in LA, says she realises now the details of what she says Weinstein did to her are not unique. ‘ There was the office tour that became an occasion to trap me in an empty meeting room. The begging for a massage, his hands on my shoulders as I attempted to beat a retreat,’ she says.
‘ When I moved to LA to continue working in film production, Lysette tried to push me back to the UK, out of Harvey’s reach, because she knew he was a predator. It naturally caused a rift. We only reconnected after the [#Metoo] revelations last year,’ she adds.
When Katherine, 49, an actor in LA who starred in Swingers, met other survivors at the breakfast in Hollywood last year, it was the first time she had been in a room with other alleged Weinstein victims and they each wore nametags that said ‘survivor’. ‘It was a very powerful moment,’ she says.
She heard about Louise’s work with trauma and was interested immediately. ‘I knew it was a pivotal moment in my journey and my mission was to find ways to heal. I took several workshops with Louise. One of the most important things I’ve been taught is to have compassion for myself. Learning about the way our brain works when we’ve been through trauma has been eye-opening. There were suddenly explanations for things in my life I’d never understood – like that trauma survivors don’t know how to take control of situations because control was taken from us.’
When Katherine was 23, her agent set up a meeting between her and Weinstein. He then invited her to a screening that turned out to be a solo trip to the cinema with him. Afterwards, he asked if they could go to his apartment to pick something up. She says he went to the bathroom, came back in an open bathrobe and asked her to massage him.
‘I could feel my body trembling. I thought I might faint,’ she recalls. ‘He told me everyone does it and mentioned specific famous people. I said no and he went back into the bathroom. I thought he was getting dressed, but then he came out completely naked. I was absolutely stunned and truly didn’t know what was going to happen next. We did this dance back and forth where I was trying to get past him to the door, then he asked me to show him my tits. I was furious and kept saying, “How could you do this to me?”’
Like many of his survivors, Katherine says she felt alone and experienced a deep sense of shame in the years that followed. She had no idea he had allegedly abused other women and only told a few trusted people what had happened, terrified she’d be punished if it got back to him. She tried to block it from her memory but bumped into him at a number of film premieres
WE HAD THE COURAGE TO SPEAK UP – WE WANTED TO CHANGE THE WORLD
– which would always trigger panic attacks.
‘I felt a great sense of relief and healing watching the #Metoo movement unfold last year,’ she adds. ‘It meant I wasn’t alone. But I felt awful that all these other women had gone through it as well. A lot of us are friends for life now. Some of us are in different places on our journey but we are there to support each other throughout. We have various Whatsapp groups and frequently bounce ideas off each other. The movement has been incredible because it has encouraged people to feel things they may have buried and gives people a chance to heal.’
It has taken serious guts, but the survivors’ support network has picked up a momentum of its own. Now, unlike before, survivors stand together, support one another and blame the perpetrators instead of themselves. Thousands of women like Louise, Katherine and Zoe are taking control of the narrative and asserting that they aren’t going to take it any more.
Zoe calls for an end to a culture of ‘ bro’ enablers that allows the powerful to manipulate situations to their advantage. ‘ The world needs to understand how trauma impacts people. We must hold abusers to account; we can no longer allow men like Trump and Kavanaugh [Trump’s US supreme court nominee accused of sexual assault, which he denies] to hold office,’ she says.
‘ This network of women who have come together has felt extremely positive. There is a connectivity and a sense of solidarity. This is the beginning of the fight. It is crucial the millions of abused victims of sexual assault have a safe place and feel supported enough to come forward when they do.’ For more info about trauma and resilience, visit Echo at echotraining.org
Weinstein being escorted into the Supreme Court last month on further abuse charges