If everyone knew about Harvey Weinstein, why didn’t anyone say anything?
This is the question that lurks around the still-unfolding story of Weinstein’s alleged, rampant sexual predation: As more details emerge about the failure to arrest Weinstein years ago; as some of Hollywood’s sparkliest stars say, well sure, they’d heard the rumors, but they dismissed such salacious smut as unreliable gossip; as more women come forward to say “me too.”
When we talk about the power in speaking out, or the reliance on a “whisper network” — a behind-closed-doors way for would-be victims to alert each other to likely assailants and their predations — what are we really saying? That this information could only be whispered. That, should a person dare to discuss these matters publicly, there would be consequences: Professional, personal, and, in cases like Weinstein’s, legal.
Weinstein used legal contracts to condemn his victims and employees to keeping his secrets, on pain of financial ruin. He weaponized non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, against his colleagues as well, apparently requiring Miramax employees to sign especially restrictive contracts which forbade them from discussing any aspect of their experiences with him with anyone, ever.
On Wednesday, Zelda Perkins, a former assistant to Weinstein, spoke in front of the Parliament in London about her NDA, which she termed “morally lacking on every level,” and push for changes in legislation around NDAs.
Perkins says she left her job with Miramax after a colleague accused Weinstein of attempted rape. As Deadline reports, “She and her colleague were informed that they would be ‘utterly crushed’ if they tried to pursue a case against Weinstein, so they decided to launch a financial claim against Miramax instead. They ultimately signed an agreement negotiated with a Miramax lawyer that saw both women receive $250,000 (£175,000), as well as signing an NDA banning Perkins from ever speaking about the alleged incident.”
Perkins said she fought to include restrictions in the NDA on Weinstein’s future behavior, stipulating that Weinstein would have to go to therapy for three years and that, if he paid off another accuser in a settlement, the company would be obligated to either reveal as much to Disney (then the owner of Miramax) or fire Weinstein. She told the AP that her goal was to “create protection for people in the future,” but “I have no idea if any of the obligations were upheld.”
“Essentially we were defrauded,” Perkins told Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, which is in the midst of a full inquiry into sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace.
Perkins’ NDA forbade, literally, all communication with anyone about her interactions with Weinstein. Per the Hollywood Reporter (emphasis added):
It also said that not only could she not speak to friends, colleagues or family about her experiences with Weinstein, but also professionals, including medical practitioners, unless they themselves had signed an NDA. Such restrictions meant that Perkins’ colleague — who she claims Weinstein had attempted to rape — couldn’t see a trauma counselor without them signing an NDA.
Perkins says she was never even given a copy of the NDA she signed. But her lawyers told her they’d never seen anything like it.
Last fall, Perkins broke her NDA and spoke publicly about Weinstein. In a televised interview with the BBC’s Newsnight, she called him a “repulsive monster” and “master manipulator” and accused him of raping her then-colleague 19 years prior at the Venice Film Festival.
Earlier this month, the Weinstein Company filed for bankruptcy and, under pressure from New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (who is suing Harvey Weinstein, Harvey’s brother Bob, and the Weinstein Co.), freed all its current and former employees from their NDAs.
As Perkins told the committee, “The problem [with NDAs] is they are used abusively and within the law,” she said. “There isn’t enough regulation and there isn’t a framework to protect the victims of the situation.”