It is true but incomplete to say that the word of one woman was not enough to bring down the law on Harvey Weinstein. The full truth is uglier. In the spring of 2015, Weinstein’s own admissions of groping a woman without her consent, first overheard by officers and then caught on tape, weren’t enough for prosecutors to bring charges.
Ambra Battilana Gutierrez was 22 when she reported to the NYPD that, earlier that day at a business meeting, the superstar Hollywood producer had grabbed her breasts and put his hands up her skirt. As she sat with Special Victims detectives, Weinstein called her and police heard him acknowledge touching her breasts. Gutierrez was distraught, but she agreed to wear a wire to meet Weinstein the next day in the lobby of the Tribeca Grand, where he asked her to come to his hotel room while he took a shower. Gutierrez repeatedly said she wanted to leave, then demanded to know why he had groped her breasts. Weinstein replied, “Oh please, I’m sorry, just come on in … I’m used to that.”
He was also used to what happened to him after he was hauled in for questioning, which was nothing. The producer assembled a team of well- connected advocates, from Rudy Giuliani to the former chief of the Manhattan district attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit, Linda Fairstein. Tabloids battered Gutierrez’s reputation. “Page Six” referred to Weinstein as a “married dad of five” and quoted an anonymous source dismissing the case as extortion. Detectives later said prosecutors in Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance’s office had grilled Gutierrez about whether she was a sex worker. Days later, they announced they would bring no charges.
With no other recourse, Gutierrez decided that accepting payment from Weinstein ($1 million, she has said) in exchange for her silence was the least-worst option. She couldn’t have known at the time how many other women had faced the same decision. Two years later, in 2017, Gutierrez chose to break her NDA, playing the Weinstein recording for The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow. “I hope the other girls get justice,” she told him.
Her account to Farrow, along with dozens of others in The New Yorker, the New York Times, and elsewhere, was enough to finally shame law enforcement into action. As of this writing, at least 100 women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault or harassment against Weinstein; over a dozen made formal complaints to the NYPD. This month, the same Manhattan DA who declined to pursue Gutierrez’s allegations will finally put Weinstein on trial. He has been charged with five counts of rape and sexual assault of two women—former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and an unnamed woman who says he raped her in a midtown-Manhattan hotel room in 2013.
Several other women are expected to testify to Weinstein’s predation. The hope of prosecutors is that the cumulative effect of the accusers’ testimony will establish a pattern harder to dismiss than any one woman’s account. In that way, then, the trial will be yet another test of the strength of the larger Me Too reckoning. “This sort of testimony is really powerful,” said attorney Douglas Wigdor, whose anonymous client plans to testify at trial that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 2005. “It just takes the wind out of the sails of the defense team.”
It’s the same strategy that worked in the case against Bill Cosby. When he was tried in June 2017 for assaulting Andrea Constand, only one other accuser was allowed to testify; the proceedings ended in a mistrial. A year later, five women testified. This time, Cosby was convicted. By then too, the public better understood why, for example, a sexual-assault survivor might not immediately report her attack or why she might stay in friendly contact with her abuser. An appeals court upheld the conviction in December, saying prosecutors had established Cosby’s “unique sexual-assault playbook.”
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January 6–19, 2020