Los Angeles Times
Weinstein accusers grilled on subsequent interactions
Kelly Sipherd said she wanted to confront her assailant.
In 1991, Sipherd was a 24year-old aspiring actress when she met Harvey Weinstein at the Toronto International Film Festival. She enjoyed the conversation about novels and films they had over a few glasses of wine and thought it was a “great opportunity” for her nascent career to know the Hollywood mogul, she testified last week at Weinstein’s rape trial in Los Angeles.
She recalled how Weinstein invited her to his hotel room to watch an Irish film he wanted to adapt, telling her he thought she’d be great for a part in it. But within minutes of entering the room, Sipherd said, Weinstein was half undressed, clawing at her skirt. She said he raped her that night.
Seventeen years later, Sipherd saw Weinstein again. Thinking she’d finally get a chance to demand answers, she agreed when he again suggested a meeting in his hotel room. But when she arrived, Sipherd said, Weinstein’s aides left the room, and after a brief conversation, he masturbated in front of her without her consent.
During his cross-examination, Alan Jackson, one of Weinstein’s defense attorneys, made it clear he thought Sipherd’s story was preposterous. If Weinstein had raped her, he asked, why would she willingly be in a room alone with him again?
“You know when you got up from the table you were not going upstairs to discuss business,” Jackson told Sipherd.
Jackson’s line of inquiry was the type many of Weinstein’s accusers have had to face as his Los Angeles trial on charges of rape and sexual assault enters its third week. In all, eight women are expected to testify against the former film producer in coming weeks. They have been, or probably will be, grilled as Sipherd was over contact they had with Weinstein after he allegedly raped them.
To parry the strategy, prosecutors have brought in an expert on sexual assault to counter what one described as the “rape myths” offered up by Weinstein’s lawyers.
“This is probably the most difficult rape myth for people to grasp: that it is not uncommon for individuals to have subsequent contact with the perpetrator. Some people have continued contact because they want to decrease collateral damage,” forensic psychiatrist Dr. Barbara Ziv told jurors, referring to fears held by sexual assault victims that reporting their abuser might harm them professionally.
That concern could be significant in the case of Weinstein, who wielded immense power in Hollywood between 2004 and 2013, when the alleged assaults occurred, prosecutors say. Many of his victims were aspiring actresses and models who have said they feared being blackballed if they spoke out against the man behind Oscar-winning films such as “Good Will Hunting ” and “The English Patient.”
On Monday, former actress and screenwriter Lauren Young testified that she decided not to call police after Weinstein allegedly assaulted her in 2013 at the Montage Beverly Hills because she believed it was possible he had police officers on his payroll and “thought he could have me killed.”
Young testified at Weinstein’s 2020 rape trial in New York, accusing him of groping her and masturbating in front of her in a hotel bathroom after he invited her to meet to discuss a screenplay. The day after that incident, Young returned to the hotel, where she met with Weinstein’s executive assistant Barbara Schneeweiss to continue discussions about her script.
Jackson zeroed in on Young’s decision to go to the follow-up meeting, questioning why she would do so if she feared Weinstein as she claimed. He displayed emails between Young and one of Weinstein’s employees in which she arranged to receive tickets to a preOscar party.
“I didn’t know what he was capable of . ... I was more afraid not to go,” Young said of the meeting with Schneeweiss.
Young said she feigned interest in the pre-Oscar party out of “fear of retaliation” and did not attend.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, is expected to face questions along similar lines when she takes the stand. Siebel Newsom says Weinstein assaulted her in 2004 or 2005, when she was trying to establish herself as an actress. In the years after the alleged attack, Siebel Newsom kept in touch with Weinstein, a potent fundraiser for Democrats. The mogul’s attorneys have said she solicited donations from him as her husband ascended politically.
“She brought her husband to meet and party with the man who raped her. Who does that?” defense attorney Mark Werksman asked during his opening statements last week.
The Times does not identify victims of sexual assault unless they have spoken publicly. While the victims in the Weinstein trial have been granted anonymity on the stand, Siebel Newsom revealed in a 2017 essay that she had been abused by Weinstein. Sipherd, through her attorney, asked that her name be published after she testified last week. Other accusers, including masseuse Juls Bindi, have spoken publicly about the alleged assaults.
During testimony last week, Bindi said Weinstein hired her for a massage in 2010 when he was staying at the Montage Beverly Hills. Afterward, Bindi said, Weinstein “barged” into the bathroom while she was washing her hands, backed her against a wall and groped her while masturbating.
After the alleged attack, Weinstein calmly told Bindi, “Now I know I can trust you, we’re close friends,” she alleged. He offered to help Bindi publish a book about “naked massage” through his company Miramax’s publishing arm and asked for her home address.
Bindi told Weinstein where she lived. She told jurors last week she did so out of the terror she felt in the immediate aftermath of the assault. But Weinstein’s defense team has portrayed the moment, and her contact with the mogul in subsequent months, as evidence that their sexual encounters were “transactional” rather than assault.
Bindi agreed to give Weinstein another massage months later. Like Sipherd, she had an ulterior motive, telling jurors she planned to record the encounter and get Weinstein to admit to assaulting her. Instead, she said, he attempted to masturbate in front of her again. This time, Bindi testified, she allowed it on the condition that he not touch her.
In the moment, Bindi recounted to jurors, she made the calculation that if she “took control” of the situation, Weinstein wouldn’t attempt to rape her. But Werksman seized on her explanation, citing the potential book deal as evidence that she was satiating Weinstein’s desires for favors.
Jane Manning, director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project and a former sex crimes prosecutor in New York, said Werksman’s approach failed when he used it against women in Weinstein’s previous rape trial. Two of the accusers in that proceeding — Mimi Haleyi and Jessica Mann — had continued relationships with Weinstein after he assaulted them, and a jury still found him guilty of raping them.
Given Weinstein’s power, Manning said, his defense team is oversimplifying the pressure each woman faced to acquiesce to him.
“All of the women he sexually assaulted knew this about him,” Manning continued. “So, for many of them, it seemed like there was only one option: to try to go on with life as normal when it came to dealing with Harvey Weinstein.”
‘This is probably the most difficult rape myth for people to grasp: that it is not uncommon for individuals to have subsequent contact with the perpetrator.’
— Dr. Barbara Ziv, forensic psychiatrist