For Weinstein Victims, Hope and Anxiety as a Historic Trial Nears: "We're All Prepared for an Onslaught"
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For Weinstein Victims, Hope and Anxiety as a Historic Trial Nears: "We're All Prepared for an Onslaught"

Ahead of the Jan. 6 court date, some of the more than 80 women who have accused the disgraced mogul of sexual misconduct plan to attend in person as they gird themselves for attacks by his lawyers: "Our presence is important right now."

The last time actress Katherine Kendall saw Harvey Weinstein was at a party after the 2010 premiere of The King’s Speech that she attended with a friend. "I turned a corner and there he was," says Kendall, best known for 1996’s Swingers. "I felt my knees buckle and I wanted to leave immediately." Kendall, who also teaches dance in West Hollywood, has accused Weinstein of inviting her to what she thought was a professional meeting in 1993 when she was 24 and chasing her, while nude, around his New York apartment. Now she’s deciding whether she can stomach encountering the producer again, this time in a courtroom where he’ll face charges stemming from allegations of sexual assault and rape. As the Jan. 6 trial date nears, Kendall says she has been battling anxiety and migraines, weighing whether to travel to New York and attend the proceedings alongside other Weinstein accusers. "Maybe if I’m prepared for it and I get myself in the right headspace, I’ll be OK," Kendall says, noting that she steadies herself by avoiding negative comments on social media and sharing supportive notes with the other women.

"Will it be a strong message for us all to be there? Would that be helpful? It might be a good thing for him to have to see us."

The Weinstein trial will mark a pivotal moment in the lives of the more than 80 women who have accused the former mogul of sexual harassment or assault since October 2017 — and in the far-reaching #MeToo movement they helped spark. (Weinstein has denied any allegations of nonconsensual sex.) For many of Weinstein’s accusers, the notion of him facing a jury for his alleged crimes was unthinkable when he was at the height of his power in Hollywood and New York. Some of the women are planning to attend the trial to show solidarity with the alleged victims in the case, and to bolster prosecution witnesses like actress Annabella Sciorra, who is expected to testify that Weinstein raped her at her New York apartment in the early 1990s.

In the fall, a group of more than 20 of Weinstein’s accusers, who call themselves the Silence Breakers, hired a publicist through Time’s Up to share for the trial: former Joe Biden spokesperson Kendra Barkoff Lamy at SKDKnickerbocker in Washington. “I believe that our presence is important right now; it’s just about supporting each other," says Rosanna Arquette, who plans to attend the first day of the trial as well as the days when Sciorra testifies. Arquette has said she went to a hotel to get a script from Weinstein in the early '90s and he answered the door in a bathrobe and pulled her hand toward his crotch. "This trial, yes, in the long run is for everyone. But this happened to us. It actually happened to our lives. Especially the rape victims, their lives have been shattered in trauma, in years of living with this. And many, many careers have been affected, including mine."

It would be hard to overstate the impact Weinstein’s accusers have had on the conversation around sexual assault and harassment. In their wake, women have come forward to accuse powerful industry men including Leslie Moonves, Russell Simmons, Matt Lauer and Brett Ratner, all of whom lost their jobs amid the allegations. The Weinstein accusers also inspired the creation of Time’s Up, which has pushed for gender parity in the entertainment industry and raised more than $22 million in a legal defense fund to support lower-income women. "We would not be in this historic moment without the courage and conviction of these survivors, who risked everything,” says Tina Tchen, president and CEO of Time’s Up. "We hope that these survivors experience some small measure of justice as this trial begins. … Sadly, most cases never even make it this far." 

Of the many men called out during the #MeToo movement, Weinstein is the first to stand trial in a criminal courtroom. (The Cosby claims predated #MeToo.) And while allegations against Weinstein have been lodged around the world, from Los Angeles to London to Cannes, New York prosecutors are so far the only ones to bring charges, freighting the case with even more consequence for his accusers and others impacted by #MeToo. “This trial has enormous significance for me,” says actor Johnathon Schaech, one of Hollywood’s few male #MeToo accusers, who has said that filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli sexually harassed him on a 1993 movie set. "It’s an opportunity for justice. Hearing from most of these actresses is why I spoke out."

Some are bracing themselves for the possibility that the 12-person jury may not find Weinstein guilty, and the man upon whom an international campaign against sexual harassment and assault was built may walk free. “I honestly don’t have too much faith in the judicial system in terms of their handling of sexual assault cases,” says Jessica Barth, who has said Weinstein invited her to a meeting at the Peninsula Hotel in 2011 to discuss a film role and then asked her for a naked massage, and who went on to create a nonprofit called Voices in Action devoted to documenting incidents of sexual misconduct. If Weinstein is acquitted, says TV news reporter Lauren Sivan, "It would mean that our legal system has not caught up with our culture and our society." Sivan has said Weinstein cornered her in the kitchen of a restaurant in 2007, tried to kiss her and then masturbated in front of her. “Five years ago, there was nowhere to report this kind of behavior," Sivan says. "You couldn’t report it to your union. Your agent didn’t care. At least now there’s an infrastructure in place. I really worry, though, that the legal system has not caught up. It’s a much different animal to find him guilty in a court of law.” If Weinstein is indeed convicted, Kendall says, "it will send a message to the world that men like this in power can’t keep getting away with this."

Many of the women have been watching Weinstein’s pretrial publicity push warily, including an appearance on ABC’s Nightline by his lead attorney, Donna Rotunno, who said, “If you don’t want to be a victim, don’t go to the hotel room." "She was very cruelly victim-blaming,” says actress Larissa Gomes, who has that said that at a business meeting Weinstein asked to see her breasts, tried to massage her neck and shoulders and blocked her from leaving. "It was very dismissive for all of the women who’ve come forward … or have been terrorized and harassed and stalked for years." Some of the women feel Rotunno’s comportment in the Nightline interview foreshadows what the Weinstein team’s approach will be during the trial. "We’re all prepared for an onslaught," says Sivan. "We’re prepared for his lawyers to discredit us, to smear the women who came out against him."

Those women also have watched as Weinstein has stepped out publicly in recent months, including showing up at an actors showcase in New York in October where some performers appeared to be trying to ingratiate themselves with the producer, even as comedian Kelly Bachman called him out in her act onstage, referring to Weinstein as “the elephant in the room" and "Freddy Krueger." "Look, I know he’s innocent until proven guilty, but it really seemed like an F-you, like I’m going to continue living the exact same life," Sivan says. "The worst part was reading that people were fawning over him, that he had fans coming up to him. Shouldn’t we wait and see how the trial turns out before we admit our love and adoration for a guy who has something like 90 women accusing him of really heinous crimes?"

Weinstein’s accusers read the interview he gave to the New York Post from a hospital bed in which he claimed he was a "forgotten man" who had "made more movies directed by women and about women than any filmmaker." "Delusional," says Barth. Of Weinstein’s recent use of a walker, which Rotunno has said is due to back pain resulting from an August car accident and which some have speculated is calculated to garner sympathy, Sivan says, “I don’t care if they have to wheel him in on a gurney. That shouldn’t be an impediment to justice in anyone’s case."

Each time Weinstein pops up in the news, some accusers say they reach for what has been the most consistent source of comfort since they first publicly told their stories — each other. Over the past two years, the Silence Breakers have shared text chains, conference calls, even a birthday gathering for one of the women on the rooftop of the London West Hollywood. In the weeks leading up to the trial, that communication has intensified, they say, as they discuss the ways in which the event is triggering them, and how the case may unfold. Many have been looking to the two Bill Cosby criminal trials for hints, good and bad, of what to expect. “They’re going to try and show it was consensual,” predicts Kendall. “Because some of the women wrote him back afterward or saw him again. But I think there’s going to be someone there to explain trauma like there was at the Cosby trial, so that we can understand that victims need to control the narrative sometimes. They do reach back out, especially in a work environment, because they’re trying to reclaim what happened and make it different. That sounds counterintuitive, but it’s actually a survival mechanism.”

Kendall has begun to wonder about the prospective jurors, and how many will have had an experience with sexual assault. "One in four women are assaulted," Kendall says, citing a common statistic derived from a survey by the Association of American Universities. "So almost everybody has had this experience, or had someone close to them have this experience. Everyone has a feeling about it. It’d be shocking if they find a jury of 12 people and none of them have had this happen to them." Some of the women who aren’t planning to attend the trial say they will be following it closely through the media. "I’m disappointed there’s no cameras in the courtroom," Sivan says. "America should be able to watch."

As they make sense of the trial for themselves, Weinstein’s accusers say they will also be trying to make sense of it for their families, who have watched how the case has impacted them. "I’ve often thought about how I explain this to my son when he’s older," says Gomes, whose boy is 4. "I guess if he would ask me a question I would say, 'Mommy had a very big bully and there’s a lot of other women who had the same bully and we all stood up to the bully.' " 

This story first appeared in the Jan. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.