How #MeToo Accusers Cope After Going Public: "My Hatred Has Deepened"

Illustration by: Rebekka Dunlap

Anna Graham Hunter, who wrote a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter about being harassed by Dustin Hoffman, talks to other women about what life has been like since coming forward.

The other night I was on a Tinder date at a bar in Los Angeles. I liked the guy — and he, I think, liked me — but there was something I wanted to tell him if there was going to be a second date. He needed to know that I was one of the women who accused Dustin Hoffman of sexual harassment.

I hate this part of dating. My role in the #MeToo movement is something I want potential boyfriends to know about me, but without my having to tell them. It’s easy enough information to uncover: All you need to know is my first name and the fact that I accused somebody famous of sexual harassment, and a simple Google search (“Anna accuser”) will reveal everything — how I wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter in November detailing Hoffman’s lewd comments and groping when I was a 17-year-old intern working on the 1985 TV adaptation of Death of a Salesman. But it’s also something I’d rather not share with everyone, which is why I set up a fake Facebook account to link to Tinder, so that I can decide for myself who gets to know and who doesn’t.

Life has become more complicated since I came forward, and dating is the least of it. Six months later, I’ve been feeling kind of shitty about the whole thing — in some ways I feel worse now than I did before I went public — and it’s been hard to figure out why. Why have I been so angry? Why do I suddenly burst into tears for no obvious reason? Shouldn’t I be feeling better now that my story is out there? I wondered if I was the only one who felt this way, or if other women who accused powerful men have had similar experiences. I decided to find out by talking to as many of them as I could.

“There’s no rule book for this,” says Holly Gunderson, a former employee at Osteria Mozza who accused one of the restaurant’s owners, star chef Mario Batali, of grabbing her crotch at an event. “Every one of my emotions has surprised me, and my hatred has broadened and deepened.” Playwright Cori Thomas, who revealed her own Dustin Hoffman story to THR — hers involved the actor exposing himself to her in 1980, when she was 16 — had a similar experience. “I don’t want to call it a depression,” she tells me, “but the whole thing spun me into a very quiet place.”

Zoe Brock, who last October accused Harvey Weinstein of sexually harassing her in 1998, helped me understand why I hate Hoffman so much more now than I did when I wrote my essay. “Maybe we made a joke out of what happened to us, like I did,” she says. “Or we minimized it. Or we buried it. But now we have to reframe it,” which in her case has meant realizing that her “funny dinner party story isn’t funny at all. Instead it’s the story of a violent rapist.” By itself, my experience with Hoffman may not seem that bad. But as part of the larger story of what he was doing to others at around the same time, it’s sickening.

Before I wrote about what happened to me, Hoffman was a negligible figure in my thoughts. But once my story was published, he was everywhere — in my news feed, in my conversations, in my nightmares. In February, after I heard that a major entertainment outlet was planning to run a comeback profile on him, I dreamed that I slammed him against the wall and tried to choke him, saying, “Women keep coming to us. I know what you did to them even if the rest of the world doesn’t.”

It’s not just the collective horror once you become a landing place for other people’s stories that’s emotionally exhausting. It’s also, as Weinstein accuser Louise Godbold says, that whatever story we share publicly becomes “a lightning rod for all this other stuff that’s happened. It puts you in touch with your own lifetime battle with misogyny.” Godbold wrote about Weinstein sexually harassing her in 1991 and is now executive director of Echo Parenting, an L.A. nonprofit that provides education on trauma to parents and professionals. “Coming out kick-starts the process of old stories resurfacing,” she says, “and you better bloody be ready for it.”

Jasmine Lobe didn’t know if she was ready, which is why she waited two months after the initial Weinstein articles before telling her own story about him. During that time, she barely slept. “I would read articles about him — this one woman described how he raped her, and I just cried for an hour, and I didn’t even understand what I was crying about,” she says. “It was like something broke, a damn had broken, and I realized, I’m not over this.” She went back and forth over whether or not to go public. “I didn’t know what coming out meant for me, but I knew there were consequences, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to deal with whatever was on the other side of the wall.”

One reason people don’t want to come forward is the fear that they will forever be linked to the person who hurt them, and that’s something that haunts many of the women I talked to. “I don’t want to go down in history as a victim of one of these dickheads,” says Brock. Starr Rinaldi, who went public with her story of how, back in 2002, director James Toback sexually harassed her, says, “You Google me now and I’m next to this Jabba the Hutt dude — I’m forever attached to him.” For Rinaldi, an event planner, it’s not just the emotional toll, but also a monetary one. She says she’s lost work — about $15,000 — since coming forward. “I’m ‘tainted,’” she says. “I got told I’m out of the circle of trust. I didn’t work all the time, but I’m not working at all now.”

One of the hardest things for me — and for a lot of the women I talked to — has been watching how some men who’ve been accused are apparently bouncing back. Starting last month, redemption and second-act stories began appearing in the press. A New York Times’ piece on Batali made Gunderson livid. “He gets to choose: Will he go back into business? Will he go to Rwanda? Or does he just want to retire in Italy? Those are his choices,” she says through gritted teeth. “That’s what he gets to ponder while he’s on extended paid vacation, thank you very much.” When Brock talks about rehabilitation stories, her voice shakes with anger: “Most of us never got a first chance to have the careers we dreamed of. So to start having conversations about comebacks for these predators causes a lot of pain. If Charlie Rose is lonely playing tennis at his mansion, I would suggest that he be grateful that he has a mansion. All of them should start being a little more grateful that they’re not in jail right now.”

The comeback stories illustrate just how few repercussions there are for men accused of sexual misconduct. That Toback could serially prey on hundreds of women and not face any legal consequences is why Brittny McCarthy has focused so much energy on trying to change the statute of limitations in California. McCarthy accused Toback of sexually assaulting her in 2008 and recently testified in Sacramento at a hearing on a bill that would extend the statute of limitations on workplace sexual harassment from one year to three. But even that wouldn’t do much in the case of Toback, which is why she wants to see legislation that would exempt serial predators from the statute. “Someone who has a pattern of serial predatory behavior should not be held to the same statute of limitations,” says McCarthy, a former political staffer and lobbyist. "There should be an exemption.”

Most of the women I spoke to expressed the desire to create something positive from all of this. “Survivors experience post-traumatic growth when they’re able to find meaning and purpose in that experience,” Godbold says. Gunderson, an operations manager at an L.A. university, adds, “It’s made me get more involved at my current job in helping to make the reporting process easier and more transparent.” Rinaldi has created an Instagram account focused on systemic change. Godbold and others are planning an event to bring silence-breakers together for a trauma workshop.

What’s clear is that telling our stories publicly has changed us. “We won’t shut up,” Lobe says. “We don’t know what’s going to happen to someone like Harvey Weinstein, but we won’t shut up.” Adds McCarthy, “What they’re all afraid of is exactly what we’re doing right now, which is talking to each other.”

As I was having these conversations, I remembered someone I connected with in November who wanted to share her own experience of rape but was told by a reporter that her assailant wasn’t famous enough to warrant an article. Thinking about her makes me realize that, as shitty as I’ve felt recently, coming forward was still a choice I got to make because I have the odd privilege of having a famous abuser. A common — and accurate — refrain is that the #MeToo stories that get published are just the tip of the iceberg, but what doesn’t get discussed as much is who gets to be visible above the waterline. It isn’t solely a function of a survivor’s willingness to talk to the press; it also depends on whether a news outlet thinks the story is one the public wants to hear, either because the accused is famous or because the accuser fits the mold of someone worthy of our sympathy. But these are not just individual stories with victims and anti-heroes — they are illustrations of how power is wielded and abused. And until we see the entire iceberg, we won’t be able to smash it.

Follow Anna Graham Hunter on Twitter and Medium.

A version of this story first appeared in the May 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.