In October 2017, an Italian model sat down with LAPD investigators and told them that Harvey Weinstein had raped her in a hotel in 2013. It was the first of nearly 100 reports the department would receive as the #MeToo movement swept the country.
The “Weinstein effect” reverberated far outside the entertainment business, leading to an 83% increase in sexual harassment complaints in California in the first three months of 2018, and a 60% jump in New York. In Hollywood, scores of men were forced from their jobs, including actors, producers, directors and high-ranking executives.
Weinstein would be arrested in New York, fitted with an ankle bracelet and paraded before the media under the cloud of six counts of sexual assault and rape. But in Los Angeles, the capital of the entertainment industry, the trail has gone cold, and not just against the disgraced producer.
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office was initially so overwhelmed by the volume of reports that it set up a special “entertainment task force” to review the cases. But to date, L.A. prosecutors have not filed a single criminal charge.
That is not so unusual. A 2012 study found that only one out of every nine rape and attempted rape allegations submitted to the LAPD resulted in an arrest, and less than one in 20 resulted in a prison sentence.
“This is very routine in terms of how this happens — the underreporting, the delayed reporting and the lack of prosecution,” says Katharine Tellis, a Cal State Los Angeles professor who co-authored the report. “The power dynamics at the heart of this crime are the same.”
Kristina Cohen, an actress, was among those making allegations last fall. In a Facebook post, she accused “Gossip Girl” actor Ed Westwick of raping her at his home in February 2014. Westwick denied it. On Nov. 7, she reported the case to the LAPD. Three other women came forward with similar allegations.
Cohen tells Variety that she was willing to testify, even after prosecutors warned her that the defense would try to rip her apart on the witness stand. And she had a witness who was outside the room when the alleged rape occurred. Yet in late July, prosecutors opted not to file charges, citing insufficient evidence.
“I was disappointed,” Cohen says. “It seemed like we had enough evidence to take us to court. I didn’t really understand. You have good people that know this thing happened, that believed us, and yet the system and the law protects the abuser.”
The LAPD submitted the Weinstein case to the D.A.’s task force in February, but seven months have since elapsed, and it remains in limbo. The office has not filed a charge or rejected the case.
“It is still very much an active ongoing investigation, and we’re looking at it,” says Christina Buckley, the head deputy of the D.A.’s sex crimes unit, in an interview with Variety.
In New York, prosecutors have faced pressure to bring charges against Weinstein. Detectives publicly faulted prosecutors for refusing to file charges against him in 2015, and that led the governor to seek an attorney general’s investigation of the D.A.’s handling of the case.
But in Los Angeles, those pressures do not appear to apply.
“The office hasn’t put that sort of pressure on us,” Buckley says. “We want to do what’s just and what’s right, not what may be popular.”
So far, according to law enforcement, that has meant declining to prosecute. Many of the cases have been dismissed because of the statute of limitations — just three years in some instances. In other cases, the victim refused to participate in a follow-up interview with a prosecutor, a necessary step in the process.
At the LAPD, the robbery-homicide unit was tasked with fielding the influx of #MeToo cases. The unit investigates serial killers, human traffickers and “VIP” cases involving Hollywood celebrities. At the height of #MeToo, the unit had 30 detectives paired off in teams of two looking into Hollywood sexual assaults.
Capt. Billy Hayes, who oversees the robbery-homicide unit, pulled detectives with experience on cold-case homicides to help on some of the older allegations. Many of those cases were too old to bring charges. Even so, detectives went through the process of investigating the claims and forwarding them to the D.A., on the chance that they could help substantiate other allegations.
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“The problem with a great majority of these cases is they were aged when they were reported,” Hayes tells Variety in an interview in his office at LAPD headquarters. “None of them were contemporaneous to the act, so the idea of having any forensics was not there.”
A second major issue was that many of the victims had already reported their allegations on Facebook or Twitter. The #MeToo movement was fundamentally a social media phenomenon, as women spoke up to corroborate each other’s accounts.
But to the police, that botched cases by spoiling the independence of each victim’s account. Hayes is adamant that survivors can post that they were victims of sexual assault, but they should leave the details — including even the perpetrator’s name — out of it.
“You don’t need to put it out on social media for others to read,” Hayes says. “You’re destroying the opportunity for us to prosecute that case. What you’re really doing is giving the person that committed the crime the opportunity to go do it again.”
“It’s not helpful,” she says. “There are cases where it’s presented a challenge.”
In her report, Tellis faulted the D.A.’s office for looking for reasons not to file rape cases — a charge the D.A. rejects. For Cohen, sharing her experience publicly was the whole point.
“I was willing to [testify], but that wasn’t the point of the #MeToo movement,” she says. “It’s about a revolution to give voice to women where they can speak up about sexual assault and rape and not be this taboo thing.”