As movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is fired by his own company and more women come forward accusing him harassment, sexual assault and rape, we speak with Tomi-Ann Roberts, professor of psychology at Colorado College, about her “petrifying” encounter with Harvey Weinstein in 1984, when she was an aspiring actress. Today, her academic research includes the psychological consequences of the sexual objectification of women and girls.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Today we look at the fallout from two shocking investigations by The New Yorker and The New York Times, which revealed a slew of rape and sexual assault allegations against disgraced and now-fired movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who had been one of the most powerful men in Hollywood for decades. Weinstein has also been a major contributor to the Democratic Party.
This week, The New Yorker reported three women say Harvey Weinstein raped them, while more say Weinstein masturbated in front of them or forcibly touched them without their consent. Among the accusers is former aspiring actress Lucia Evans, who says she had just finished her junior year at Middlebury College when she was invited to a daytime meeting with Weinstein at the Miramax office. She said he pushed her head down and, quote, “forced me to perform oral sex on him. I said, over and over, 'I don't want to do this, stop, don’t.’ I tried to get away. He’s a big guy. He overpowered me,” unquote. Another woman, who was not named, says Weinstein forced himself on her during a meeting and raped her while she repeatedly said no. Like others in the article, she says she did not report the alleged rape and forced herself to continue to have professional contact with Weinstein because, quote, “I was in a vulnerable position and I needed my job. It just increases the shame and the guilt,” unquote.
The article also reveals audio from a 2015 NYPD sting operation, in which Weinstein confesses to groping Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. The recording starts with Weinstein.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: I’m telling you right now, get in here.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: What do we have to do here?
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Nothing. I’m going to take a shower. You sit there and have a drink. Water.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: I don’t drink.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Then have a glass of water.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: Can I stay on the bar?
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: No. You must come here now.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: No.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Please?
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: No, I don’t want to.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: I’m not doing anything with you, I promise.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: I know, I don’t want to.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Now you’re embarrassing me.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: I’m sorry, I cannot.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: No, come in here.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: No, yesterday was kind of aggressive for me.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: I know. It—
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: I need to know a person to be touched.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: I won’t do a thing. If you embarrass me in this hotel where I’m staying—
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: I’m not embarrassing you.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Just walk—
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: It’s just that I don’t feel comfortable.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Honey, don’t have a fight with me in the hallway.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: It’s not nothing. It’s—
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Please, I’m not going to do anything. I swear on my children. Please come in. On everything. I’m a famous guy.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: I’m feeling very uncomfortable right now.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Please come in. And one minute. And if you want to leave when the guy comes with my jacket, you can go.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: Why yesterday you touched my breast?
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Oh, please. I’m sorry. Just come on in. I’m used to that.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: You’re used to that?
HARVEY WEINSTEIN: Yes, come in.
AMBRA BATTILANA GUTIERREZ: No, but I’m not used to that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: While this was from a NYPD sting operation, no charges were brought. On Wednesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance defended his office’s decision not to prosecute Weinstein.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY CYRUS VANCE: If we had a case that we felt we could prosecute and my experts felt we could prosecute against Harvey Weinstein, we would have. We take on many, many, many difficult sex crime prosecutions, with individuals irrespective of their background or their money. So that’s not an issue for us. We really are based on the facts, not what people think about it, not whether people liked Harvey or not, or didn’t. Obviously, he has some serious issues, and the tape is terrible. But I, as DA, have to be guided by the evidence and the evidence of a crime.
AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times reports Harvey Weinstein was represented in talks with the District Attorney’s Office by two defense lawyers with ties to Cy Vance. One of Weinstein’s lawyers at the time donated $10,000 to Vance’s election campaign only days after Vance decided not to prosecute the case. The New Yorker reports 16 current or former employees of Weinstein’s companies say they personally knew about Weinstein’s assaults or harassment. Today The New York Times reported Weinstein’s company has been aware of several confidential settlements he made with women since 2015.
Meanwhile, a slew of Hollywood’s most high-profile actresses have told The New York Times they, too, experienced Weinstein’s harassment—among them, Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan, Pulp Fiction star Rosanna Arquette. Paltrow said, quote, “We’re at a point in time when women need to send a clear message that this is over. This way of treating women ends now,” unquote. On Wednesday, Rose McGowan reported her Twitter account had been suspended, after she used it to support other women who have come forward and to attack those she saw as complicit, including the Weinstein Company board of directors and high-profile actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. McGowan accused Affleck of lying about his knowledge of Weinstein’s history of sexual misconduct.
Weinstein’s wife, Georgina Chapman, a well-known fashion designer, says she’s ending their 10-year marriage.
On Tuesday, former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broke their silence, and both condemned Weinstein, who is a major Democratic donor. In a statement, Obama said he and his wife Michelle have been “disgusted” by the reports, and said, quote, “Any man who demeans and degrades women in such fashion needs to be condemned and held accountable, regardless of wealth or status,” unquote.
For more, we are joined by several guests. Joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Colorado is Tomi-Ann Roberts, a professor of psychology at Colorado College, who says she was harassed by Harvey Weinstein more than 30 years ago, in 1984, when she was an aspiring actress. Her work focuses on the psychological consequences of the sexual objectification of women and girls.
In Los Angeles, we’re joined by Louise Godbold, who wrote about her experience with Weinstein in a blog post titled “My Encounter with Harvey Weinstein and What It Tells Us About Trauma.” She’s now executive director of Echo Parenting & Education.
And here in New York, Irin Carmon, contributing writer at The Washington Post. Her piece is headlined “Women shouldn’t trust the men who call themselves allies.” She’s also the author of The New York Times best-seller, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Tomi-Ann Roberts, let’s begin with you. We’re going to talk about the work you now do on the sexual objectification in girls and women, but let’s begin with what happened to you more than 30 years ago, in 1984. How did you come in contact with Harvey Weinstein?
TOMI-ANN ROBERTS: Well, the stories are beginning to sound monotonous—right?—and chillingly familiar. I was waiting tables. I was a student at Smith College, and several friends and I had decided to spend the summer in New York City pursuing our dreams. And so we sublet an apartment, and I was waiting tables at a restaurant, and that’s where I met both Bob and Harvey Weinstein. They were relative newcomers on the scene, explained to me their new company, Miramax. And pretty soon, I was given to believe that I might be someone who could audition for a movie that they were going to be writing and directing, and it would have been the first movie they were writing and directing here in the United States. And so, I thought—I think I thought to myself such a new company might not—might not take such a new, unknown person for granted, and so I decided that I would try to audition for that movie. So, throughout the course of the summer, I would receive scripts and script updates. I did visit the office on an occasion.
And then I was invited to what I believed was Harvey’s apartment. And my expectation, of course, was that others involved in the movie would be there, as well, and that turned out not to be the case. And it was in this—down a rather darkened hallway that I discovered him in the bathtub. And that encounter, as you might imagine, was petrifying to a 20-year-old. I sort of stood there frozen. And Mr. Weinstein was quite calm about trying to explain to me that if I would at least take my top off, this would demonstrate to him that I wasn’t going to be shy about doing so in front of the cameras. The movie was likely to have topless scenes. And looking back, as I’ve said in several interviews now, I’m slightly ashamed to think that the only way I could imagine getting out of there was not running, but rather politely sort of self-effacingly apologizing for the fact that I didn’t feel comfortable with that. And so I did eventually exit and found a payphone, called my boyfriend, and basically threw my acting aspirations in the wastebasket.
AMY GOODMAN: You had actually gone back to one of your tryouts, your additions, that—where they said that you were moving forward, and they told you they weren’t interested anymore, Weinstein’s company?
TOMI-ANN ROBERTS: Yeah, mm-hmm. I don’t know if it was Weinstein’s company. It was a casting agent. At the time, I was so frightened because of the previous experience, that I convinced one of my housemates to come with me, a rather larger young man. And once we got there, it was pretty clear that Harvey himself—neither Harvey nor Bob were going to be there. And the casting agent was a very kind, older woman who just sort of said to me, “You know you’re not getting this part, right?” And I did do the reading and felt pretty lousy about it. And that was about the end of that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Tomi-Ann Roberts, you talk about feeling ashamed—
TOMI-ANN ROBERTS: Right.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —for apologizing as you left. But, you know, one of the things that’s so extraordinary about your experience is, in fact, that you did have the wherewithal and the kind of gumption to actually walk out, because, as you point out, women who find themselves in these situations are so shocked at what actually occurs, that they’re frozen.
TOMI-ANN ROBERTS: Absolutely.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, could you explain a little bit—you know, you can talk about your experience, but, more generally, how it is that women respond, or what it is that prevents women, in so many instances, from acting the way that they retrospectively feel they should have acted?
TOMI-ANN ROBERTS: Right, right. I think that that’s probably something that a clinical psychologist would have a lot to say about, about the kinds of things that can happen when—you know, we know that there are a number of different reactions to shock. And one would be to fight. One would be to flee. But the other is to freeze. And I think that freeze response is so flooding, it’s so overwhelming. And I think that once you consider the age and the power differential in these kinds of situations, so many women describe a similar way of exiting, which is that you sort of put it on yourself, you very politely—you tap into all the feminine socialization that’s been part of your life since you were called a pretty little girl, and you apologize. You say that this is something about you, not something about him, this powerful man who might otherwise retaliate, and you bow out, backing your way to the door. And you find that your only, quote, “power” in the situation is to appear to be someone who’s just not really up for this. And I think that that’s a way of not poking the bear, right? That’s a way of trying to say, “It’s me, not you, but I’m getting out of here.”
AMY GOODMAN: Tomi-Ann Roberts, very quickly, before we talk about another experience and then have this broader discussion, what was your response now, more than 30 years later, when you started reading the accounts of women who describe very similar encounters, or much more serious, The New Yorker piece by Ronan Farrow begins, three women are claiming rape? What did you think today?
TOMI-ANN ROBERTS: So, so chilling. You know, I’ve carried this with me for so long. And I’m not a person who’s involved in Hollywood. I went on and got my Ph.D. I live my life in academia. There were never very many opportunities, other than maybe at an Oscars party, where you’re hanging out with friends, and here comes Harvey Weinstein on the stage, and I have a little uuggh inside. When that piece came out on Thursday by Jodi Kantor, it was just—it opened something up in me.
AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times piece.
TOMI-ANN ROBERTS: And I wrote an email to Jodi, and I thought there’s never in a million years she’s going to read this, certainly not. I opened the email by saying, “I’m not an actress. I’m a 54-year-old college professor. This is going to sound crazy, but this happened to me.” So, it was a real opening for me, and it was a way of me looking back at the whole narrative arc of this, at the ways in which for the rest of my scholarly life I’ve really, really been moved and motivated to study these things and to try to help stop this kind of treatment. As Gwyneth Paltrow so wonderfully said, “This way of treating girls and women ends now.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and come back, and we want you to stay with us, Tomi-Ann Roberts, professor of psychology at Colorado College, who describes her experience being harassed by Harvey Weinstein back in 1984, when she was an aspiring actress. That put an end to those aspirations, but now she looks at the objectification of girls and women in her psychological research. When we return, another experience and then a broader discussion. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: “Til It Happens to You” by Lady Gaga, who co-wrote the song with Diane Warren for the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground about sexual assault on college campuses. The film was distributed by the Weinstein Company, which Harvey Weinstein co-founded.