Shortly after she graduated from college, Dominique Huett ran into one of the most powerful movie moguls in the entertainment industry. In her early 20s at the time, the aspiring actress met Harvey Weinstein at Cipriani in New York City. The upscale hotspot was a favorite of Weinstein’s where, we now know, he’d assault numerous women over the course of many years.
Huett was ecstatic about the chance run-in, since she wanted to become an actress. Unbeknownst to her, that night at Cipriani was the beginning of a “grooming relationship,” she says, and Weinstein would repeatedly remind her of the power that he wielded — and abused — for years to come.
Throughout her 20s, Weinstein promised to help Huett with her acting career. He put her in touch with his casting department at The Weinstein Co., the indie movie studio that he ran, and she’d pitch him ideas for projects. While Weinstein held Huett’s dreams in his hands, she was successfully — or so she thought — fending off his sexual advances.
“I felt like I handled it really well. I thought that I overcame what I had heard he does to people,” Huett tells Variety of brushing off Weinstein’s passes. And so, to maintain a professional relationship, she continued to keep in touch with Weinstein, who said he could help her become a star.
“In hindsight, I feel like I was probably blacklisted for not cooperating from the very start,” Huett says over the phone from New York City in an interview conducted just days before the one-year anniversary of Weinstein’s 23-year sentencing on the charges of sexual assault and third-degree rape.
“He was telling me that I had to go through with this sexual act. To me, that was grooming because I was made to believe that if I didn’t give in, that was just the way it worked,” Huett recalls. “Now, I know that the words are ‘coercion’ and ‘fraud.’ I felt like I had been totally misled by someone in power and led into that predatory situation thinking that it’s just the way it works. It’s really unfortunate for women that we’re subjected to this kind of thing in our careers.”
Nearly a decade after they first met, Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted Huett in 2010, she has alleged, at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, one of Weinstein’s favorite places to stay, where he repeatedly engaged in predatory behavior. This incident became the source of Huett’s 2017 lawsuit against The Weinstein Co., which she alleges was complicit in the abuse.
Huett’s case was the first civil suit of sexual nature against Weinstein, following the bombshell reports in the New York Times and New Yorker that first portrayed Weinstein as a repeated sexual predator. The women who told their stories helped bring the #MeToo movement into the mainstream, leading into an avalanche of lawsuits and eventually a criminal trial that would convict Weinstein of rape and put him behind bars for 23 years.
To many, Weinstein’s substantial sentencing signaled that justice has been served. But one year after that historic day at the New York criminal courthouse, many survivors of Weinstein believe it is just the beginning.
Weinstein is currently working with his lawyers on appealing the New York criminal trial, which is expected to be filed by the end of this month. And next month, he is set for his pandemic-delayed extradition hearing for his Los Angeles trial, where he faces 11 additional counts of rape and sexual assault, facing 140 years in prison.
But when it comes to justice, Weinstein’s crimes and decades-long abusive behavior has created a legal mess for victims, who have already endured so much loss.
Huett is one of 50 women involved with The Weinstein Co.’s bankruptcy settlement that has created a divide in opinion amongst the Weinstein survivors, who have been forced to deal with a justice system that, quite frankly, does not know how to handle victims of sexual assault.
Huett and a handful of other Weinstein accusers are appealing the court’s approval of the $35.2 million bankruptcy payout — which stands to give millions more to Weinstein’s bankruptcy attorneys than the victims, who, collectively, would receive $17.1 million.
“I want to be released from this deal. That is what I’m hoping,” Huett tells Variety. “It is only fair that I can chose to pursue my case or not — I feel like that’s every victim’s right.”
The bankruptcy plan was approved by a judge earlier this year, after 83% of Weinstein accusers voted to accept it. The $17.1 million will be divided along those accusers, whose allegations will be assessed by a claims’ examiner, in proportion to the severity of their claims. In other words, victims will need to explain why their assault and harassment was worse than that of other victims, in order for the funds to be allocated. And with the monetary compensation, each woman will be asked to sign a waiver absolving Weinstein of any further responsibility, or else she will forfeit 75% of the payout.
An attorney for Huett and three other accusers seeking to block the bankruptcy settlement believes that the deal immunizes Weinstein’s enablers, who turned a blind eye to the rapist’s misconduct throughout the years.
“If affirmed on appeal, this will go down in history as the worst settlement of all time,” says Huett’s attorney, Douglas Wigdor. “I can think of no other settlement in which a survivor of sexual assault is compelled as a matter of law to settle her claims rather than confront those that she believes are responsible for what happened. And, I can think of no other settlement in which the alleged wrongdoers will receive millions of dollars in reimbursement of legal fees as part of the settlement agreement. The insurance companies and the billionaire directors of The Weinstein Company must be laughing and high-fiving each other for pulling this off.”
After years of being groomed by Weinstein, Huett fears that if the bankruptcy plan moves forward, a bad precedent will be set and other women will continue to be subjected to systemic bad behavior in the workplace.
Especially because, as Huett and other survivors have pointed out, Weinstein was acquitted of the most serious charges in his criminal trial: two counts of predatory sexual assault, which would have affirmed that the jury saw a pattern of behavior throughout the years that was intended to take advantage of those less powerful than him. “The way a lot of us were victimized was repetitive and premeditated,” Huett notes.
“I want there to be accountability and I want there to be a message sent to corporations that we shouldn’t be treated like a commodity.” Huett says. “Other companies would learn to stop this kind of behavior because they’re going to have to face consequences, financially and criminally. I feel my strongest stance is to fight this deal to make change happen for women.”
Tarale Wulff, a key witness who testified that Weinstein raped her in 2005, could stand to gain financially from the bankruptcy plan, but she is firmly against the payout because she believes it binds survivors, who all deserve their day in court.
“I had the opportunity to speak my truth in the criminal trial of Harvey Weinstein,” Wulff tells Variety. “No survivor should be compelled to give up that right nor denied their voice.”
Only six women were able to testify in the New York trial, but more than 100 women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault and rape.
One of those accusers, actor Caitlin Dulany, has become a leading voice among the Silence Breakers, a group of women who have come forward with allegations against Weinstein to speak out against the systems of power that enable abusive behavior.
Dulany, who claims Weinstein sexually assaulted her at the Hotel du Cap in Cannes in 1996, is unable to testify in any criminal trial, due to the statute of limitations. In her quest for justice, Dulany was a major force in the class-action lawsuit, aided by the New York Attorney General, which was set to award a group of victims nearly $19 million. The settlement collapsed in the eleventh hour, leaving Dulany and the other plaintiffs heartbroken.
“I signed up as a lead plaintiff in that civil suit always with the idea that we were seeking justice for all of Harvey Weinstein’s victims,” Dulany says. “This is still such a big wound. How could this have happened to so many women over so many years? What is wrong with our system that this happened?”
The one-year anniversary of Weinstein’s sentencing has been an emotional milestone for Dulany.
When asked if justice has been served, Dulany takes a long pause before responding, “That’s a complicated question with a lot of gray area.”
“In terms of black and white, yes, justice has been served. Harvey Weinstein is serving 23 years in prison for crimes that he committed against women, which he still denies, and a jury understood what happened to them and believed them. There is a lot of justice in that,” Dulany says.
Dulany is looking into an appeal of the collapsed victims’ settlement, which she believes would help the collective group of women who have been harmed by Weinstein. She also understands that not all survivors share that same belief.
“I’ve always thought of us as a whole group and wanting the best for everyone,” Dulany says. “Some survivors feel that this isn’t a collective because something really harmful and hurtful happened to them, but for me, the only thing that’s healed me a little bit from what happened is knowing that it also happened to other women.”
With a break in her voice, Dulany says, “People come at this from different points of views and I can’t judge someone else’s trauma. I respect people for having different ways of interpreting something very real that happened to them.”
Dulany, is not part of the bankruptcy payout, which is limited to the Weinstein era, meaning any claims from the Miramax days, pre-2005, are cut out.
“I am very supportive and happy for those women because in my mind, I always wanted this to be a class settlement,” Dulany says. “There are going to be 40-50 women who are going to be able to participate in that, and that’s a success from my point of view.”
Beyond the differing opinions about settlements, all of the Weinstein survivors who have spoken with Variety over the past few years, ever since the Weinstein scandal made news, agree wholeheartedly that the justice system is flawed. The statute of limitations protects abusers such as Weinstein, but prevents victims from seeking justice.
“It’s hard to understand why this has been such a difficult process when so many women have spoken about being harassed and assaulted by Harvey Weinstein with very similar stories,” Dulany says. “The legal system is just brutal. It does a number on you trying to move forward.”
According to RAINN, there are an average of 433,648 victims of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States, and out of every 1,000 assaults, less than 50 reported cases will lead to arrests, and only five of those cases will lead to a conviction.
Many Weinstein survivors are pushing for the Adult Survivors Act to pass, which would give victims more time to hold their abusers accountable. Last summer, a group of women wrote a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — now embroiled in his own allegations of sexual harassment — urging him to pass the legislation. Huett was among the women who signed the letter, along with Evelyn Yang, wife of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, plus Jessica Mann and Dawn Dunning, who both testified against Weinstein in the New York trial.
For Dunning, testifying in the criminal trial was the toughest process of her life. She recalls cars waiting outside of her home, as she prepared with the New York D.A.’s office for over two years. As the mother of two young children, she constantly lived her life in fear of being followed.
“There was so much stress and anxiety. I asked the prosecutors if there was someone else that could do it instead of me, but I sucked it up and said I’m going to do this, and I’m really glad I did. I would do it again if I had to, but I wouldn’t want to.”
Over the past year, Dunning has been working with author and activist, Joyce Short, to reform laws around consent. Alongside other women who testified against Weinstein, they have been in discussions with various senators to get laws changed across different states.
Dunning admits she never anticipated a guilty verdict. Now, with the outcome, she has closure that has helped with her trauma. But she understands and empathizes with women who have had different experiences in the multi-layered, blatantly-unfair Weinstein saga.
“It was really nice to see the legal system work. I had very low expectations, to be honest, just because of other sexual assault trials and how they’ve gone in the past,” she says. “Legally, it set a precedent for other cases, and hopefully this will continue to set a standard for this not to continue to happen.”
For the women who testified, Weinstein’s potential appeal is daunting.
Once the verdict was called, Weinstein’s legal team immediately declared their decision to appeal, though his team has not recently commented on the status or deadline for the appeal.
However, a person familiar with the current strategy of Weinstein’s legal team says the appeal will likely be filed by the end of this month. Weinstein — who is currently residing in the infirmary of the Wende Correctional Facility in Upstate New York, with continuous health problems — is said to be huddling with his lawyers and giving severe input in every step they take.
When contacted by Variety, the prosecutors who led the case for the New York trial declined to comment on the pending appeal.
Power attorney Gloria Allred, who represented three women in the New York trial, says the appeal should not impact the future Los Angeles trial, where Weinstein faces 11 additional counts of sexual assault and rape.
“Whether or not he is successful in reversing his conviction, he should still face charges against him in Los Angeles,” Allred tells Variety.
Allred’s client, Miriam Haley, who testified in New York, filed a civil suit against Weinstein in Oct. 2020. Haley’s experience was crucial to the criminal case, as Weinstein was convicted of sexually assaulting the former “Project Runway” assistant at his apartment in 2006.
On Wednesday of this week, Allred filed a memorandum, asking the judge to declare Haley the winner of the civil case, since Weinstein was already convicted criminally.
Another one of Allred’s clients who testified in New York, Lauren Marie Young, will also serve as a key witness in Los Angeles. (Young is declining media requests.) Despite numerous delays due to COVID-19, Allred believes the L.A. trial must move forward. (Allred is also representing another alleged victim in the L.A. criminal case, whose identity has not yet been revealed. The Jane Doe is not planning on speaking to press in any capacity, ahead of the trial.)
“I think it is important that the Los Angeles County prosecution of Harvey Weinstein moves forward, despite the fact that Mr. Weinstein was convicted in New York and was sentenced to 23 years in prison there,” Allred tells Variety. “These witnesses who will testify to what they allege that Mr. Weinstein did to them in L.A. County deserve to have their day in court and Mr. Weinstein should be required to face a Los Angeles County jury who will decide if he should or should not be convicted of charges filed against him in this jurisdiction.”
For the women who have come forward with the decades of accusations against Weinstein, they couldn’t agree more.
While it’s been one year since Weinstein was sentenced, it took a lifetime, and thousands of people involved, to even get him to court in the first place.
“Harvey Weinstein going to jail is an important thing to have happened,” Dulany says. “But the damage that he left in his wake is part of this story, too – and it goes on.”