Before being found guilty by a jury and handcuffed on his way to jail, Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct, harassment, assault or rape by at least 100 women.
On Monday morning, the possibility of Weinstein being imprisoned seemed impossible, to some. How could one of Hollywood’s most powerful men end up behind bars? By Monday afternoon, that question became a reality.
Weinstein was convicted on a charge of criminal sex act and a charge of rape in the third-degree. He faces a maximum sentence of 29 years. The former movie mogul faced five sex crimes charges in his rape trial, which marked the first criminal trial of the #MeToo movement.
Despite allegations from over 100 women, the criminal trial was largely based on the accusations of just two women: Jessica Mann and Miriam Haley.
Mann, who admitted during her testimony to a partly consensual, yet complex and abusive, relationship with Weinstein over the course of five years, accused Weinstein of rape in a New York City hotel room in 2013. Haley, a former production assistant on the set of Weinstein’s former show “Project Runway” has accused him of an incident of forcible oral sex in his Manhattan apartment in 2006 for which he faced a criminal sex act charge. Mann and Haley were the two key witnesses in the New York criminal trial, but six women — “The Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra and former aspiring actresses Tarale Wulff, Dawn Dunning and Lauren Young — testified to prove a pattern of predatory sexual assault.
In the days leading up to the verdict, some of the women who spoke up about Weinstein — the Silence Breakers — spoke to Variety, as they anticipated the verdict, which, we now know, is a moment in history. These raw interviews from five women who’ve accused Weinstein highlight the stakes that were at play, before the monumental verdict was announced.
Do you believe Harvey Weinstein should be in jail?
Lauren Sivan: I don’t like to conflate bad behavior with criminal behavior. I think Harvey Weinstein should be in jail because of the crimes he perpetrated against so many women over three decades. … I don’t want to put that in the same category as someone who makes an off-color joke at a writers’ room or someone who makes an errant comment in a conference room at work. Those are just two very, very different scenarios.
Katherine Kendall: I will be devastated if he’s not convicted, not just for me, but for all sexual assault victims. It is so hard to get a conviction, and I know how difficult it is for survivors to speak out, and I think that’s one of the reasons. There is so much at stake with this trial for all victims of sexual assault, for all survivors who have spoken out or who are thinking of speaking out. If he gets off, it shows that our legal system is still far away from supporting victims of sexual assault and harassment, and that’s devastating. That’s historical and it needs to change.
Despite the outcome of the trial, just the sheer fact of having Harvey Weinstein on criminal trial, will that have an impact on the culture of Hollywood?
Kendall: Harvey Weinstein has had an enormous amount of power and was absolutely in a place where he was untouchable — and he may think he still is. It is a really significant sign that we were able to take it to court. We all know that rarely do people get convicted because it’s so difficult to prove these kinds of charges, but I also think that when it does go to the court like that, it brings a very serious realness to it that can bring a possibility of change.
Dulany: That’s very fraught for me because there are so many of us that he assaulted and it took years to bring him to trial. The statute of limitations cut out almost all of our potential cases. It’s been such a difficult road just to bring him to trial, and I just really feel that women have and will continue to face difficulties when they come forward with accusations of sexual assault against powerful men in Hollywood. I’m not sure that Harvey Weinstein going to trial has put the proper amount of fear into the predators that are still out there. If we allow our industry to protect predators, if it suits their bottom line, I really think it’s up to us to push and to make more change happen, and that has to do with equality for women in the industry and pushing for better laws and for better protection on sets.
Gomes: Now that we have finally been heard and we have this collective voice that’s mobilizing, I think the impact of the trial on what it means to the Hollywood culture is that we’re not going anywhere — we’re only getting louder.
Does it feel like justice has been served, just by seeing him on trial for rape?
Kendall: In my case, I didn’t say anything because I was terrified. 20 years later when Ambra [Gutierrez] went to the police, I was like, “Wow, this woman is amazing. She’s incredible. That was so brave.” And then nothing happened. It just went away. So I thought, “I was right. If you go tell on him, nothing will happen and it will go away.” And then he just came back. But then there were the stories in the New York Times and the New Yorker. And there actually was a trial — it’s an amazing feat. He is a hard person to get down. They’ve been trying for so, so long.
Dulany: One of the most positive impacts is that it says to the world and to our industry that survivors of sexual assault matter. When we speak out and make our voices heard, we can bring a predator to court. We can make this happen. It didn’t feel that before the #MeToo movement we really mattered and that anything would happen — the DA’s office had an opportunity to bring Harvey Weinstein on trial in 2015 and didn’t, and I truly believe that had to do with his power and influence. So to see him in a criminal court says to survivors that their voices matter and they can seek justice. It feels like justice to me that he was charged with these crimes and faced a criminal trial. That was a big, big moment seeing him walking into court that first day because I certainly didn’t believe when I was assaulted over 20 years ago that I would ever see that.
Gomes: I don’t think any of us thought we would ever get here, so that in itself feels like a big deal.
Do you feel like this trial helped to educate the public on the trauma of rape victims?
Kendall: I hope the jury saw the complexity of why women go back. That story is not just a Harvey Weinstein story. That story happens all over the world when they know their abuser. Most people have one way of looking at what sexual assault or rape is. They don’t understand that people get trauma-bonded to people. They don’t get that when someone has so much power over them, they feel so powerless and they want to make something right, so they go back. They want to pretend like it never happened, so they go back to have another experience so they can go back and have the experience that Harvey originally promised them. He dangles the carrot. He knows he’s got the power. He knows who he is in the world. And he offers that power through scripts or other things. It’s Harvey Weinstein — the guy who makes everything happen.
Gomes: The trial did open up the conversation about the lack of education of trauma. I think a lot of people are not exposed to and don’t have knowledge about what happens biologically and psychologically when you go through that type of trauma, particularly after it happens. I think that was a really strong pivot point in the trial, in terms of being something that could shift the cultural consciousness surrounding what happens to victims of sexual assault. … I hope when the jury deliberates, they will be able to take that into consideration.
Louise Godbold: When we step back from all of this, we have ascribed the guilt to Harvey that he deserves, [but] I hope we can also look more systematically at the criminal justice system — it shouldn’t be that women have to go through a second trauma in order to convict their rapist.
If Harvey Weinstein is not convicted, what message will that send to rape victims and sexual assault survivors to see him walk away a free man?
Kendall: I’m preparing myself for an enormous feeling of sadness and anger and hurt and fear, if there is no conviction. It’s not because I need him to be in jail. It’s because I need society to believe all of us. I need them to know and I need them to see and I need them to put the message out and flip the script and believe women and help us. We’re all just saying this really happened. Are we really living in a time that he won’t get in trouble for this?
Caitlin Dulany: Traditionally men who face charges like this, whether it’s Kavanaugh or Clarence Thomas, traditionally they put themselves on the line and get skewered and then get off. If that narrative continues, given how many women have spoken up against Harvey Weinstein, and the number of women that were allowed to testify in his trial, him being able to go free will definitely impact how far along we can get in the near future with a change in culture.
Larissa Gomes: A lot of people fear that right now, we have a peak moment, but what happens when, regardless what the verdict is, it’s no longer in the headlines? Is it going to go back to what it was? I don’t believe it will. I don’t believe it can. There are so many men who have been outed — not just Harvey Weinstein — so how could you go back from that?
If Harvey Weinstein walks away free, do you feel that the entire trial was worthless?
Kendall: I think it is going to feel like a total slap in the face and it will feel like everything went down the tubes, but I don’t think it has. It will hurt because so much energy has gone into fighting for women and fighting for our truth, but I think that the ship is turning around in the ocean and it takes a lot to make that ship turn because it’s slow, but we have started that pivot. I think right now, it’s bigger than Harvey Weinstein. The way things are going, there are going to be moments where we feel like we haven’t made any progress at all, but the world is changing and the world is stepping up.
Dulany: Just the idea of him going free after these six women took the stand, it would just be heartbreaking. I am so grateful that the Los Angeles DA’s office brought charges against him as well, and I hope that happens in London, because what I would want for Harvey Weinstein is for this to be a never-ending nightmare of a situation for him, as it has been for all of us who have been assaulted. There is justice to that.
Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. If Harvey Weinstein is not convicted, why do you think that is?
Kendall: I think people are having a hard time with the fact that a woman was raped and went back. I think that whole story isn’t explained to people or laid out enough. The courtroom makes it look like what’s on trial is the woman’s character — her testimony is about anything she’s ever done that wasn’t a perfect picture of a woman. It’s all about what’s wrong with women, and it takes away from the whole thing. He still could have raped them.
You sat in the trial and watched some testimony. What was your reaction?
Kendall: It was so austere. It’s so intense. It was so hot and stuffy and intense and laborious being there, and yet, these majorly important thing were happening. I could barely sit there. I was pulling myself to stay. I was riveted, but at the same time, I felt like I had been given sleeping gas. It was the strangest experience.
Godbold: Annabella stood up very well to the questioning, even though she was white as a sheet. Jessica Mann was clearly more fragile, and I just felt for her so much. She’s so brave. We would have loved to have been in that witness box, but she took that on for us.
Was there a shocking moment that stands out to you from the courtroom?
Kendall: Mimi broke my heart. She broke down and she said, “I was such an idiot.” I just wanted to hug her. She still blamed herself for going into the room, which is what people do — they always blame the woman. Why did you go into that room? What did you wear? All of the things that we’ve all been up against for out whole lives, regardless of rape, just anything that’s ever happened bad with a man. The shame that takes a victim over. I saw her questioning herself and feeling bad for herself.
What was your perception of the strategy of Harvey Weinstein’s defense team?
Kendall: For his team, of course, it was all about what she did. It was never about that he raped them or did what he did. The focus was still on what the girl did wrong. It was just so strange to me that the women were treated like that — there was a condescending and degrading quality. They should win an Academy Award, the defense lawyers. They just try to ruin the women’s character and bring up all these things about her to discredit her. It’s almost cartoonish.
Sivan: I heard his lawyer [Donna Rotunno] in a television interview say, “These women should have known better than to go to a hotel room — what did they expect? Women don’t want to take certain responsibilities for their actions. We infantilize ourselves. You have to know that when you make certain choices, there’s a risk when you make those choices.” That kind of mentality hopefully will end if he is brought to justice. There should be no reason why a woman going to a business meeting should have to do so in a hotel room alone with a man in a bathrobe. That shouldn’t go on. That shouldn’t happen.
Dulany: I was warned by friends of mine who are Cosby survivors that’s what it’s like in the courtroom, but it really felt like the dark ages and like the #MeToo movement never happened. It was really rough. The understanding of abusive relationships went out the window and these women were just vilified and attacked. I was prepared for some victim shaming and blaming, but the reason I was surprised that it went so deeply down that road is because there has been a lot of cultural change, there has been so much dialogue about what victims go through, there has been so much more understanding and support and sympathy, that I just couldn’t get over how it just felt like it was sucked out of the room. It made me feel like, “Wait, haven’t we gotten somewhere in the last two years?”
Gomes: There was one point where I was talking to one of the other Harvey survivors and we were both so enraged with Donna Rotunno saying that the actors were not considered as legitimate of a witness as other witnesses — it is so incredibly victim-blaming and demeaning. The mindset of the defense is to find fault in what she must have done to make herself available to that behavior, rather than the power dynamic that he used so often as his weapon of choice. It was so enraging to hear that defense.
Godbold: They were totally victim blaming, which is what predators do — they turn the tables, put the blame on the victim.
Harvey Weinstein was emblematic of the “casting couch” in Hollywood. Do you believe the casting couch culture still exists?
Sivan: The idea that there is one way to make it in this business and that’s finding a casting couch, I think that’s become a really antiquated idea. … I’m sure on levels it still exists. I can’t see it wiped out completely, but I hope that more and more people will speak up.
Kendall: When the casting couch started in the ’20s, women were property of the studios. We need to be equal.
Dulany: I think that change is hard and the casting couch has been around for a long time. It’s possible with the #MeToo movement, there is more fear for someone being caught. But personally, having being preyed on by someone like Harvey Weinstein, I would be very hesitant to say that they will curb their behavior because of this trial.
Gomes: I guess I would ask, “Who would still accept this exploitation happening around them?” I certainly think a lot of people thought it was an industry norm. The power has shifted and that’s a very important distinction. What women were subjected to or threatened to tolerate for so long is over.
What has been the biggest change in Hollywood, in regard to the fair treatment of women, since you spoke up about Harvey Weinstein?
Sivan: You think about all the people that worked for Weinstein that knew what was going on — I know when I told my story for years and years, every time I told someone the story, they would say, “Well, that sounds like Harvey.” No one seemed shocked by it. No one was outraged. So this idea that no one knew anything is a lie, so I hope now when you are working for a person that has that type of behavior that you know is wrong, that you know puts other people in an unsafe spot, that you’ll be responsible for yourself and say to yourself, “Do I want to work for someone like that and do I need to speak up about this?” And thankfully now there are actual channels for you to speak up about it. That’s the biggest change. There really was nowhere to go before.
Gomes: I know one thing has changed: women are standing together now, and we’ve always been pitted against each other.
Has it been harder for you to secure work, since you came forward with your allegations against Harvey Weinstein?
Sivan: I’ve been told by agents, I’ve been told by representatives that because my name is attached to this, I make people nervous. That men that are still in power and there are quite a few, might think twice about hiring someone that came forward with a story. They might think that they can’t talk normally about me or comfortably around me. As proud as I am to be a part of the change that’s taken place in the last two years, it’s been a little tough to have your name constantly connected to this person. You want your career to speak for itself, but I will forever be attached to this story. It’s a double-edged sword.
Harvey Weinstein is just one person who happened to spark the #MeToo movement — but the issues in Hollywood are much bigger than one person. What steps does the industry need to take to ensure equality and safety in the workplace?
Sivan: I think moving toward equality with women in managerial and executive positions, that obviously will help. … I think the unions have gone a long way to make progress. I know SAG-AFTRA has, so we are seeing change incrementally and that’s always a good thing to move in that direction.
Kendall: Safety measures need to be taken. There need to be places to report. There need to be guidelines on set. There need to be more women in places of power, and we need to get rid of the boys’ club culture. There needs to be more equality. We will have to continue to work hard, but I worry that in Hollywood and in the music business, people are so dazzled and people come from all over the world to be in this business, they will do anything, and I worry that it makes it a prime space and climate for people to take advantage of people. There is always the fear that there is someone in an ivory tower doing bad things and making bad decisions.
Are you hopeful for future generations of women in Hollywood?
Kendall: I do feel hopeful. I feel like young women today are really switched on with eyes wide open. If I had a daughter in her 20’s and she was going out in the world to become an actor, I would feel better than I would have five years ago. Tremendous change has happened since 2017 in this business.
Gomes: I would love to think that future generations don’t have to inherit these kinds of behavior in the business. I think there are some changes being made on a grassroots level, in terms of what the unions have tried to implement, and also some reform, in terms of laws and politics to make sure this can’t happen again, but it’s going to take a lot of organization. For future generations, I think the courage and the resolve is there. They’ve already displayed that in everything from civil to human rights, they’re aware of injustices and exploitations and I think they’re really emotionally intelligent. I think if one thing can be attained from this, it will be that: they feel like they will not be silenced, and they will speak up.
Godbold: I love how the younger generation doesn’t put up with this s—. I love it that this younger generation is so much more able to stand up for their rights.
Editor’s note: All five women were interviewed separately by Variety the week before the verdict was announced.