A few weeks ago, friends and family urged me to write about some of my experiences of sexual harassment in the acting industry. Truth be told I was afraid. But as accusations against Harvey Weinstein came to light, my fear turned to anger and I realised I had to act. By speaking out I could support those who had suffered, empower actresses in the future and make up for the times I’d said nothing and accepted that harassment simply ‘came with the territory.’
My personal encounter with Weinstein by the toilets on the set of Nine (a movie in which I was a stand-in for Penelope Cruz) became just a funny anecdote – he had asked me where I was taking him that night and I ran off pretending I didn’t hear. Family and friends joked, “If only you’d taken Harvey up on his offer, you’d have been famous by now…”
I questioned myself as a result of those comments. I found myself thinking, “If only I thought more of myself, it could have been an opportunity for me.” I chastised myself for thinking that I was “just the stand-in.” I blamed myself for not being confident enough.
Now of course I know my instincts not to go, were right.
When I finally started to write my original article, more fears arose. I worried people would think I was ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ – as if everyone is coming forward for fun or attention, or as one Italian DJ recently tweeted “for a pension plan”. Would I be accused of being ‘a desperate stand-in trying to grab fame’ or since I wasn’t raped were my experiences even worth talking about? Would people think maybe I had invited that kind of behaviour? But I persisted thinking that even my small contribution could help bring about change.
When the article was published and shared on social media, I realised I wasn’t alone and my exact fears were why others kept silent too. Everyone was afraid and felt the need to justify themselves when they were the victims. Actresses felt maybe they were ‘young and foolish’, or they’d been told to be quiet or to be flattered by the attention. Some worried what their family and friends would think, that they’d lose their jobs, that either their story was too awful for people to handle or not awful enough. And many were speaking out for the first time. That’s why Weinstein’s victims didn’t say anything sooner – that and the documented campaign against them waged by Weinstein’s ex-Mossad private investigators to keep them quiet or discredit them by any means necessary.
It took courage to speak up because let’s face it, the climate for speaking out is not attractive. We’ve all ridiculed those scantily dressed women in the papers who accuse someone of rape or betrayal, judged them as ‘bimbos’ and ‘bunny-boilers’, (derogatory terms that for some messed-up reason automatically come with the female gender). It’s so easy to roll our eyes and judge these women. But reading the detailed and very painful accounts of Weinstein’s victims, you realise you cannot. And these women weren’t just young, ‘fame-hungry’ actresses but established, intelligent and successful actors or assistants and colleagues in their own right.
Despite much support for them many are now being criticised: Asia Argento was berated by reporters in Italy with journalist Renato Farina for Libero writing, “First they give it away, then they whine and pretend to repent.” In a radio interview, the paper’s editor, Vittorio Feltri, said “that Argento should be thankful that Weinstein had forced oral sex on her.”
Britain’s Anne Robinson came out saying the younger generation of women should toughen up! The women I know are tough, Anne, more than tough. But when confronted with a Weinstein situation, unexpected and unprepared, it becomes simply about finding a way to escape as quickly as possible. And a lot of the women who were at the mercy of Weinstein did fight. Actress Annabella Sciorra said: “I fought. I fought…” She said after he raped her, her body started to shake violently. “I think, in a way, that’s what made him leave, because it looked like I was having a seizure or something,” she said.
Reading actors’ accounts I realised that, “Phew, it wasn’t just me, I wasn’t dumb”. It’s possible many felt they had to wait ’til they were in a powerful enough position to speak up. For Brit Marling, “Weinstein was a gatekeeper who could give actresses a career that would sustain their lives and the livelihood of their families. He could also give them fame, which is one of few ways for women to gain some semblance of power and voice inside a patriarchal world. They knew it. He knew it. Weinstein could also ensure that these women would never work again…”
So in case there remains any uncertainty, women kept quiet for three reasons: shame, fear of loss of livelihood and a lack of faith in anyone else believing them. That and they were silenced – told that they didn’t stand a chance, to shut up, and were paid off and blackmailed into signing usurious, ‘forever NDAs’ and deleting any evidence they had. They, alongside journalists and Weinstein’s friends and colleagues were threatened, bullied and bribed, silenced by free vacations, making their movies, inviting them to lavish dinners and parties, tickets to shows, etc… And harassed, as we now know, by expensive and secretive corporate intelligence agencies.
Harvey Weinstein wasn’t one of a kind, though he is clearly one of the most prolific offenders. We shouldn’t have to wait till there are hundreds of accounts before a man can be found guilty? We cannot wait until actual rape is involved to be taken seriously?
If you think this is causing incitement and hysteria, a witch-hunt even against men… I’d say that’s not such a bad thing. Not if, as history shows us, it forces change and solutions and empowers and strengthens women. Without such momentum, we would still be owned by our husbands, the slave trade would still be going on, and homosexuality would still be a crime. The wheel is turning. It’s no longer the victims’ turn to be afraid, but their abusers. And I for one won’t accept, judge or laugh it off anymore.
Useful helplines and websites:
- Victim Support - Visit victimsupport.org.uk or call 0808 168 9111 Sexual Abuse Referral Centres - Find a SARC
- Rape Crisis - Visit rapecrisis.org.uk or call 0808 802 9999 The Rape and Abuse Line - Visit rapeandabuseline.co.uk or call 0808 800 0123 (answered by women) or 0808 800 0122 (answered by men).