'There's no escape': Weinstein accusers on hope and despair in the #MeToo era

A year after their allegations against the Hollywood mogul helped fuel a global movement, five women reflect on their ordeals and what lies ahead

In the hours after Harvey Weinstein was finally outed as a serial sexual harasser and abuser last October, Zoë Brock received link after link to the bombshell New York Times coverage from the friends she had told of her own Weinstein experience.

When he denied the accusations against him, the former model and writer from New Zealand decided she had to speak up.

“It was a no-brainer,” Brock told the Guardian of her decision to publish her own account on Medium. “I wrote so hard I was sweating. I just blurted it out.”

Brock accused the Hollywood producer of making an unwanted sexual advance when she was 23 years old in a hotel room, forcing her to run into a bathroom to escape.

For the first month after the allegations came to light, there was “an enormous feeling of validation,” Brock said. The New Yorker published its own reportage, in which more Weinstein accusers came forward. His production company announced it was sacking him, his wife announced she was leaving him, and the organization behind the Oscars voted to expel him.

Women and men stepped forward to accuse other powerful celebrities, from actor Kevin Spacey to director James Toback. And Donald Trump’s accusers wondered if the president might finally be held to account for the claims they had made against him.

As the fervor of the #MeToo movement spread, open secrets became public knowledge.

“All that gave us the feeling like we were cresting a beautiful wave,” Brock recalled.

But, she added, “inevitably the wave has to crash”.

There were op-eds in prominent publications declaring the movement had gone too far. On social media, accusers faced harassment and threats. French actress Catherine Deneuve added her name to a letter calling the claims “a witch-hunt”. The author Germaine Greer called Weinstein’s victims “career rapees”.

“It was stunning and a slap in the face,” said Brock of the pushback. “I expected men to fail to hear us and understand that. I didn’t expect it from my sisters.”

Meanwhile, the effects of making their ordeals public were taking their toll on Weinstein’s accusers. Brock said her hair started falling out from stress. Another told the Guardian she had decided to move because she “felt safer in a new apartment building with good security”. Accusers sought out therapy or counselling or lawyers. Some sought out all three.

Then came the stories about men accused of sexual misconduct were beginning to plot their comebacks, even as some – including Weinstein – faced the prospect of criminal charges. Weinstein has denied charges of rape and other non-consensual acts.

“For many of us, we didn’t even get our first chance,” Brock said angrily. “We came across our Harvey Weinsteins at the beginning of our careers and had our dreams taken away from us. And the minute they’re held accountable, they start talking about making a comeback.”

A year after the #MeToo movement took off in the wake of the Weinstein allegations, its shockwaves have been felt way beyond Hollywood, from Capitol Hill to the courts, through the tech and media and service industries, as well as academia and even children’s literature. More than 200 celebrities, politicians and CEOs have been accused, according to an ongoing count from Vox. And the movement’s hashtag – #MeToo – has blossomed into a global phenomenon.

And yet, for some of Weinstein’s accusers, the moment is one of both hope and despair.

The recent confirmation of Trump’s supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who denies multiple accusations of sexual assault, and whose confirmation hearings included testimony from one of his three named accusers, were hard to watch.

Still, Brock made herself tune in. “What’s happening right now is our government is showing young boys and men that if they grope women and rape women and they want to lie about it, they can still become president or a supreme court justice,” she said. “And they’re telling young girls if it happens to them, it doesn’t matter.”

Brock has taken measures to protect her sanity, temporarily shutting down her Twitter account, tuning out the news when she needs to, and seeking therapy. But she is still glad she came forward.

“Every single time one of us speaks up, another one of us who’s been assaulted gets the courage to speak up too,” Brock said.

“I’m OK but not OK,” she continued. “I’m more OK than I’ve ever been, because I’m an adult and I speak my truth. But on another level, there’s no escape from any of it.”

‘I had to do something’

Former actor and screenwriter Louisette Geiss had been visiting her OBGYN after recently giving birth to her fourth child when the Weinstein news broke on 5 October, 2017. Walking out of hospital and turning on her phone, she was greeted by a flood of texts and calls.

“When I looked down I had an incredible amount of texts from people I’d told over the years of what had happened to me, from friends I hadn’t spoken to in a long time, to clients I had told the month previous, to one old boyfriend saying, ‘Oh my God, you should read this,’” Geiss told the Guardian.

Louisette Geiss at the October 2017 press conference
Louisette Geiss at the October 2017 press conference. Photograph: UPI / Barcroft Images

Geiss had left Hollywood for real estate after Weinstein allegedly tried to force her to watch him masturbate while she was pitching a movie at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008.

After others went public with their allegations, she wasted no time setting up a meeting with the renowned women’s attorney Gloria Allred, going live with a press conference the following week.

“I knew I had to do something because Harvey was already saying that it didn’t happen and was also saying it was such a good story he wanted to make a movie about it, which cut straight to my heart because it felt so insulting,” said Geiss.

She also reached out to a lawyer involved in a class-action lawsuit against Weinstein and The Weinstein Company (TWC), for which she’s now the lead plaintiff.

In December of 2017, Geiss and five other women, including Brock, announced their class-action lawsuit against Weinstein, Miramax, The Weinstein Company and members of its board (including Bob Weinstein, Harvey’s brother), for working to “perpetuate and conceal Weinstein’s widespread sexual harassment and assault” – one of numerous lawsuits to emerge against Weinstein in the past year.

“Harvey Weinstein is a predator,” the women wrote in their joint statement. “Bob knew it. The board knew it. The lawyers knew it. The private investigators knew it.”

“Catching one person who is supported by many is not winning in my mind,” Geiss told the Guardian.

Last month a judge told Geiss and her fellow complainants to refile their lawsuit with more specific detail of their allegations. Weinstein and his former company, which has been renamed Lantern Entertainment, reject the lawsuit’s claims and have sought to have the case dismissed.

Geiss works full time, and earlier this year was selected to serve as chairwoman of the committee overseeing the bankruptcy case for Weinstein’s former company, in addition to her duties as lead plaintiff in the class-action.

“There’s still an incredible amount of work that has gone into that and continues to go into that,” she says of her various legal roles. “I didn’t ask for this position, but I felt like if I had the strength and the position to step up then I should do it.”

She sees this as part of her job of being a mom.

“I don’t ever want to hear my daughter come home and say I had to masturbate so-and-so for a job,” she said. “I honestly can’t believe we’re even having this conversation – I mean, what the hell?”

‘It was intense’

Another Weinstein accuser involved in the class-action, Sarah Ann Masse – who alleged that in 2008 when she was interviewing for a nanny job, Weinstein hugged her in his underwear and said that he loved her – was in Europe when the allegations broke.

“I immediately had a sinking in my stomach seeing his face and the headline and realizing I wasn’t alone, that there were other people with similar stories,” she said. “It was a moment of realizing for the first time in nearly a decade, it might actually be safe for me to tell my story.”

Actress Sarah Ann Masse at an event in Hollywood in September 2017
Actress Sarah Ann Masse at an event in Hollywood in September 2017. Photograph: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

For the better part of a decade, she had told almost nobody. Given Weinstein’s power, “I knew that my career and my life could be completely destroyed by sharing my story,” Masse said.

Masse shared her story with a journalist at Variety, and was soon fielding multiple other media requests. “It was very intense,” Masse said. “I’m an actor and I’m used to speaking publicly … but talking about these kinds of things is really difficult.”

Not that she regrets coming forward. “Once the story actually went live I felt a sense of peace because I wasn’t trapped by a sense of fear of having to stay silent any more,” Masse said.

“It isn’t all rainbows and flowers and sisterhood but anything worth doing has some struggle involved and some personal sacrifice and that struggle is worth it to me because of the impact that our voices are having,” she added.

‘What do I have to lose?’

One of the first women to speak out against Weinstein, actor Katherine Kendall, was just recovering from migraines brought on by the stress of watching the Kavanaugh and Ford Senate hearing when she spoke to the Guardian earlier this month.

“I had to stay in a dark room,” she said. “I’m not even being dramatic. These are very physical symptoms – I’ve never had this before.”

Before Kendall came forward as part of the Times’ initial reporting on Weinstein, to allege that he harassed her in 1993, she said she had been “afraid something would happen to me if I said something”.

Katherine Kendall poses with her dog in Los Angeles in October, 2017.
Katherine Kendall poses with her dog in Los Angeles in October, 2017. Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP

Kendall has heard from all kinds of other trauma victims intent on sharing their story after she shared hers.

“I really do believe the way people heal from trauma is by sharing their feelings… the long-term benefits far outweigh the cost of pain.”

Kendall had been apprehensive about telling her own story. A lot of people warned her to be careful, that going up against Weinstein would be dangerous.

“Part of me was like, careful about what? What do I have to lose? These other women are putting themselves out there,” she said.

“I’ve been overly careful with this. I’ve been told to be careful since I was a teenager in regard to men and abuse and it led me nowhere. I’m only keeping their secrets by being careful and I don’t want to do that any more.”

The year that followed hasn’t been easy. But Kendall has learned about being kinder to herself, and how to recognize her own stress responses.

That’s thanks in part to the help of fellow Weinstein accuser Louise Godbold, who had been working as a trauma specialist for roughly a decade when the allegations against Weinstein began spiralling.

“l can’t even tell you how lucky I feel that I met her,” Kendall said of Godbold, adding she’s taken three trauma workshops from her this year.

Whenever the going gets especially difficult, as it did during the Kavanaugh and Ford hearings, Kendall puts things into perspective by reminding herself of the movement’s larger goal.

“I truly believe that this is a movement to help heal people and how can I not feel great about that?” she said.


Lucia Graves in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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