Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial began Wednesday with new, excruciating details about his alleged serial sexual misconduct.
Prosecutors described how the disgraced Hollywood producer groomed three different women over decades — earning their trust and dangling career opportunities before violently sexually assaulting or raping them.
New York Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast gave a roughly 90-minute opening statement to the newly seated jury, outlining each woman’s alleged encounter with Weinstein and their efforts to maintain a friendly relationship with the producer who she called “the power broker of Hollywood.”
Weinstein stands accused of sexually assaulting the actress Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping another woman in 2013, the latter of whom prosecutors revealed Wednesday is the actress Jessica Mann. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Prosecutors are also using the testimony of a third actress, Annabella Sciorra, to allege a pattern of criminal behavior, even though Sciorra’s allegations date back to the early 1990s and are past the statute of limitations.
Hast’s descriptions of each woman’s encounters with Weinstein bore striking similarities. She repeatedly described a series of “tests” she said Weinstein put each woman through to evaluate whether they could be manipulated.
“Different women, decades apart, same crime,” she said. “The man seated right there was not just a titan of Hollywood. He was a rapist, sexually assaulting these women when they refused to comply with his desires and his orders, and using his power and prestige in entertainment to ensure their silence.”
Prosecutors allege Weinstein’s sexual misconduct is part of a pattern
Hast said Weinstein’s “test” for Haleyi first came in 2006 when she approached him at the Cannes Film Festival looking for work.
After agreeing to meet him in his hotel room, Haleyi “noticed the conversation start to take a turn,” before Weinstein asked for a massage, Hast said.
Though she refused the massage and left the meeting feeling “humiliated and dejected,” a Weinstein employee soon reached out to her offering work on “Project Runway,” which she accepted.
That was Haleyi’s “first test,” Hast alleged Wednesday.
Hast said later that year, Haleyi agreed to go to Weinstein’s apartment, where he pulled her into his bedroom, pinned her down, and forced oral sex on her.
“Miriam begged him to stop, telling him she had a tampon in,” Hast said. “Harvey Weinstein simply yanked it out and continued forcibly sexually assaulting Miriam. She can’t remember how she got out of the apartment.”
Weinstein’s defense team says friendly text messages show he was no ‘master manipulator’
For Mann, her first “test” occurred at a party she met Weinstein in 2013, where she admitted she didn’t know who Weinstein was, Hast said.
Nevertheless, she said she gave him her phone number when he asked for it.
“[Weinstein was] old enough to be her father, significantly overweight, and sloppy,” Hast said. “But Jessica had passed an initial test.”
Hast went on to allege that Weinstein violently raped Mann on two different occasions and forced her to perform oral sex on him, all while the pair maintained an otherwise friendly relationship and frequently messaged one another.
Weinstein’s defense attorney Damon Cheronis homed in on that relationship throughout much of his own opening statement, showing the jury a slideshow with a timeline of Mann’s relationship with Weinstein, and the numerous friendly messages they sent one another.
On one occasion, Mann sent him a text saying, “I love you, always do, I just hate feeling like a booty call :).”
On another occasion, Mann suggested she wanted Weinstein to meet her mother.
“This is not about a young individual who was tricked by a master manipulator,” Cheronis said. “You are going to see an actual, loving relationship between Harvey Weinstein and Jessica Mann.”
Cheronis also sought to cast doubt on Haleyi’s allegations, telling the jury she pitched Weinstein projects and sent him emails reminiscing about their relationship — even after the alleged sexual assault.
“She doesn’t mention to the world that she pitched TV shows to him, met him at the Cannes Film Festival, because it’s ‘her truth.’ You’re here to get to the truth,” Cheronis said.
Research has shown that survivors of sexual assaults often stay in touch with their assailants, for a variety of reasons. If the perpetrator is more powerful than they are, they may keep in contact to further their career. Or survivors might want to forget the assault happened in order to cope, or try to forgive them. For female rape victims in the US, the assailant was an intimate partner 51% of the time, and an acquaintance 41% of the time.