‘We’re in this club we never wanted to be in’: Harvey Weinstein silence breakers find solidarity as trial rages on

Sarah Ann Masse and Caitilin Dulany have both come forward against Weinstein. They speak to Clémence Michallon about being able to lean on other women in the lead-up to a verdict

Friday 31 January 2020 20:29 GMT
Weinstein's celebrity accusers hold a rally outside court

One cold morning early this January, seven women, most of them wearing red, gathered outside the imposing New York County Supreme Court in downtown Manhattan. Harvey Weinstein, a man against whom they have all come forward, made his way inside, leaning on a walking frame. The women – Rosanna Arquette, Rose McGowan, Sarah Ann Masse, Dominique Huett, Lauren Sivan, Louise Godbold and Paula Williams – remained outside. Standing close to one another, they gave joint statements to the media, speaking out against Weinstein once more and affirming their resolve to change the culture of silence surrounding sexual misconduct.

In the days and weeks since, the women have remained vocal. They’ve been supporting each other, speaking to the media, offering commentary on the trial and on their experiences. In several instances, they’ve publicly supported the women who have taken the witness stand in court, including Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra, who alleges that Weinstein raped her in the Nineties, and former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, who alleges that he forced oral sex on her in 2006.

Weinstein, who is currently facing trial in New York, is charged with performing a forcible sex act on Haleyi and raping another woman in 2013. He has pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of non-consensual sex. The former Hollywood mogul has also denied retaliating against women.

Together, the women have called themselves the Silence Breakers – a name emphasised by Time magazine in 2017, when the Silence Breakers earned the coveted Person of the Year title. But their bond, according to what some of the women told The Independent in separate interviews, goes far, far deeper than social media hashtags and public statements.

Sarah Ann Masse, an actor, comedian and writer who has alleged that Weinstein once hugged her while in his underwear as she was interviewing to be his children’s nanny, is one of dozens of women who have accused the producer of misconduct, harassment, assault or rape. Building a rapport with the other women who have spoken out against Weinstein, she says, is “a strange thing, because we’re all in this club that we never wanted to be in, and we’re in it for terrible reasons”.

While they are spread across several age groups and come from varied backgrounds, Masse says the women remain “linked by these events that happened to all of us”.

“We have each other’s backs, we amplify each other’s voices, and it’s really incredible,” she says. “Some of the women have become my very best friends, and all of the women are people I admire and respect and have found common ground with. It’s a really special experience and definitely one of the more positive things to come out of this negative situation.”

Sarah Ann Masse speaks at a press conference outside the court on 6 January 2020 in New York City, on day one of Harvey Weinstein's trial. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

Caitlin Dulany, an actor whose credits include Spike Lee’s Oldboy as well as the series ER and Saving Grace, has accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her in 1996 at a hotel in Cannes, France. For her too, being able to rely on other women’s support has been immensely valuable.

“I have made incredible friendships. It’s very profound,” she says. “I’ve said to many of these women, that, you know how they say that your life flashes before your eyes when you die? So many of them will be in that slideshow for me. It means so much to connect them. We share such a strong bond having had this common experience and then being able to come together and support each other. I wish that for every survivor.”

Caitlin Dulany at an event on 22 August 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

When the #MeToo movement was started in 2006 by Tarana Burke, it was a way to raise awareness about sexual abuse, but also, Dulany highlights, “a way for survivors to reach each other and have a chance to empathise with each other”.

“It was all about empathy for survivors, but specifically from survivor to survivor,” she says. “It’s an incredibly healing and empowering experience to be in touch with other survivors and to have a chance to collectively make a difference.”

Support of that kind is especially important as the trial progresses. The proceedings have presented challenges for the women who allege they were harassed or abused by Weinstein. Masse says that she felt ill before the trial and that intense stress has impacted her health for years, but that standing in front of the courtroom with the other women on the first day left her feeling confident and powerful. She says it might be a little too easy to forget that the trial isn’t just a news story, but also a tale of human lives directly impacted by the alleged misconduct and its aftermath.

Dulany, too, acknowledges those feelings. “It’s been a long time coming, all the years of holding this in – the trauma, the feelings of shame and fear of retaliation – all of that,” she says. “There was a feeling of empowerment and celebration when we all started speaking out and the #MeToo movement happened. And now, with the trial, there’s some grieving involved. I can’t help but reflect on my life and what it might have been if I was able to just speak out a long time ago. And on the other hand, there’s such a sense of justice being served, seeing Harvey Weinstein actually go to court and face his accusers.”

This sense of community helps as the women await a verdict that the jury is expected to reach in February. For Dulany, justice would consist of a guilty verdict, with Weinstein being “put behind bars for rape and predatory behaviour” – which she believes would “send a very strong message around the world”

Masse mentions accountability as well when the topic of justice comes up. She hopes the trial will serve as an example for the industry as a whole and has been campaigning to change the legislation for survivors of sexual assault, particularly when it comes to statutes of limitations, which can prevent survivors from pressing charges if too much time has elapsed. (In the US, only one in a thousand sexual assault cases leads to a felony conviction according to the nonprofit RAINN.)

At the time we spoke, Masse was grateful for the prosecution’s plans to bring in a forensic psychiatrist as a witness to testify about sexual assault and survivors’ experiences. Since then, Dr Barbara Ziv has taken the stand, explaining among other things that it’s common for survivors to remain in contact with their attackers. Ziv’s testimony was part of the prosecution’s strategy to counter an effort by the defence team to undermine the credibility of the women who have come forward against Weinstein, at times questioning their interactions with the movie mogul.

This – what sexual misconduct and coercion actually look like – has become one of the most essential themes inside the Weinstein courtroom. While Dulany insists that the trial “isn’t a referendum on the #MeToo movement”, she says she’s glad to see those topics discussed in the news and in a courtroom.

“This trial is very, very important, and I have faith that when these issues are explored within the context of the women who were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein that the jury will understand what non-consensual sex and coercion really are and that it’s criminal behaviour,” adding a little later: “This is a big moment in our culture. And we need to move forward with this because we need to protect young women who are vulnerable to assault. So I’m glad that this conversation is happening and I’m glad that this is being addressed in this particular trial.”

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