Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has finally been dragged from his Hollywood throne to a prison cell after being sentenced to 23 years behind bars for rape and sexual assault.
In October 2017, The New York Times published an exposé charting three decades of allegations against the movie mogul.
Actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd were among his first accusers, with complaints including sexual harassment and forced encounters in hotel rooms, often with promises to advance victims’ careers.
Within days, the #MeToo movement had sprung up, empowering women to speak out about the sexual harassment they had suffered, often at home or in their own workplaces.
Ninety women spoke out against Weinstein.
Although he denied allegations of non-consensual sex and was acquitted of predatory sexual assault, he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a production assistant in 2006 and of third-degree rape against an actress in 2013.
As he is sentenced to 23 years behind bars, former assistant Rowena Chiu tells GoodtoKnow about her ordeal, and why justice was so long in coming.
‘We were told no one would believe us’
Rowena Chiu, 45, lives in California with her husband and their four young children, aged 10, eight, five and two
‘When I got the job as Harvey Weinstein’s London-based assistant in summer 1998, I was elated. Harvey was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, and at 24, I’d only recently graduated from Oxford University and thought this was my big break.
‘Another assistant, Zelda Perkins, warned me Harvey was difficult, that he flew into rages and needed ‘robust’ handling, but I relished that challenge.
‘Only, when, at my first meeting with him at a private screening of Shakespeare in Love, he screamed at me to ‘Sit the f*** down!’ when I shuffled in my seat. I was floored by his rudeness.
‘But I was a young woman in a male-dominated industry, desperate to be taken seriously, so I accepted it.’
She added, ‘That September, we went to the Venice Film Festival, where we’d spend evenings discussing scripts alone in his hotel room. On the first night, he told me that now I worked for him, if I did well he could call in favours for me. He was also naked – and to my horror, he asked me to give him a massage and oral sex. Feeling scared and vulnerable, I made an excuse to leave.
‘On the second night, when he was naked again, and despite fending off his massage requests, he got increasingly persistent, rubbing my back and groping my breasts. As he removed my tights and pushed me on the bed, fear took over and I realised I’d never been in control. He was my boss, 6ft and overweight, and I was trapped.
“Just one thrust and it will all be over,’”Harvey said. I pleaded with him to go back to the scripts until I eventually wriggled off the bed. As I left, he promised ‘We’ll pick this up tomorrow’ – the chase was part of the thrill for Harvey – and, terrified, I confided in Zelda.
‘We wanted to report Harvey to his superiors, but we were told nobody would believe us. Back in London, we felt we had no option but to resign, then Harvey and his team of expensive lawyers immediately pressured us to sign a non-disclosure agreement [NDA] about our experiences.
‘We hired lawyers, too, and pushed for the inclusion of clauses that Harvey would attend sex therapy and never be alone with an assistant, then accepted a settlement of £125,000 each.
‘We felt we had no choice in the matter, but let him buy our silence.
‘I eventually went into management consulting before moving to America in 2006 with my now-husband. But living with the trauma and anxiety in secret for two decades was hell – the NDA meant that I couldn’t even tell my husband or therapist about it.
‘When a reporter found me in summer 2017, I refused to talk, afraid it might put my family in danger. But, in September 2019, with other women coming forward, finally 21 years after Harvey tried to rape me, I spoke up.’
Weinstein’s conviction was a real watershed moment for #MeToo. I hope his downfall leaves a lasting legacy, not just on Hollywood, but the world.
How did Weinstein get away with his behaviour for so long?
Jo Coker is a psychologist and psychosexual therapist at the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists.
We asked her some key questions about the case.
She told us, ‘In the past, men got away with this kind of behaviour because they weren’t reprimanded for it, leading to a repeated offending pattern. Women wouldn’t challenge this behaviour, either, but rather accepted it as part of their daily lives and because they felt under pressure to do so.
‘Aside from the behaviour going unchallenged, there would have been an element of collusion, too, which prevented the scandal from coming to the surface for years.’
Why was Weinstein exposed?
The crux of the matter is that behaviour has now changed. No longer do women feel as repressed as they once did and fearful about coming forward. This is because, over time, women’s power in society has increased. Factors including equality of pay and opportunity have elevated the role of women and, in doing so, have given them a more powerful voice.
Along with that powerful voice came the belief that women could tell their story and that it would be heard and taken seriously.
What does this victory mean for the #MeToo movement?
Harvey Weinstein’s conviction is testament to the fact that people now have to seriously consider their behaviour. No longer is it permissible for men to enter a woman’s space without consent, and vice versa, and high-profile cases, such as Weinstein’s, have shown that doing so carries with it serious and severe consequences.