NEW YORK (AP) — The woman whose rape allegation led to criminal charges against Harvey Weinstein was testifying Friday in a pivotal moment for both sides in his #MeToo-era trial.
The woman told the jury in a morning court session how Weinstein talked about nurturing her acting career, but pressured her for sex. She described trying to fight off his advances at a hotel, then giving in to oral sex when he said, “I’m not letting you leave until I do something for you.”
Her testimony was expected to continue for much of the day.
Prosecutors are hoping her testimony will hammer home the most serious charges in a case that stems from the allegations of just two of the scores of women who have accused Weinstein of violating them. A conviction could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, Weinstein’s lawyers plan to seize on the accuser’s complicated history with the disgraced film producer, including continued interactions and warm emails she sent him, as they try to raise doubts about her credibility.
The Associated Press has a policy of not publishing the names of sexual assault accusers without their consent. It is withholding the woman’s name because it isn’t clear if she wishes to be identified publicly.
The woman alleges Weinstein raped her in his New York City hotel room in March 2013 after injecting his penis with medicine to induce an erection. She was a 27-year-old aspiring actress and he was about to turn 61.
Weinstein’s lawyers say the woman followed up the alleged rape with warm — even flirtatious — emails that said things like “Miss you, big guy,” and no one “understands me quite like you.” The defense says the messages point to a consensual relationship, not a heinous sex crime.
Not once, in more than 400 messages between the two, did the woman accuse Weinstein of harming her, his lawyers have said.
On Monday, jurors heard from the other woman whose allegations have led to charges in the New York case. Mimi Haleyi, a former production assistant for “Project Runway,” testified that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006.
Weinstein has insisted any sexual encounters were consensual.
Two other accusers whose allegations are not part of the criminal charges against Weinstein also testified this week, called by prosecutors to bolster their case that he has violated many women in the same manner over the years.
Last week, “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra testified that Weinstein overpowered and raped her after barging into her apartment in the mid-1990s. That allegation is outside the statute of limitations, but is part of prosecutors’ strategy to show that the powerful Hollywood mogul had a habit of preying on women.
In questioning those women, Weinstein’s lawyers also took aim at their continued interactions with him, suggesting that a follow-up meeting or communication with Weinstein was a sign that nothing untoward had happened.
But Dr. Barbara Ziv, a sex crimes expert whom the prosecution called as a witness, testified last week that most sex assault victims continue to have contact with their attackers, sometimes because those attackers threaten retaliation if the victims tell anyone what happened.
Victims are “hoping this is just an aberration” and they can also end up blaming themselves, Ziv testified.
Anticipating the defense’s expected line of questioning Friday, prosecutor Meghan Hast told jurors in an opening statement last week that the alleged rape victim had “buried her trauma” and was trying to navigate Weinstein’s powerful grip on her by pretending she wanted to see him and saying nice things.
To prosecutors, the woman behind the rape charge is a prime example of a Weinstein target: a young, vulnerable woman who believed the once-revered movie mogul sincerely wanted to help her fledgling career, only for him to make increasingly vile sexual advances.
“He was the old lady in the gingerbread house luring the kids in, missing the oven behind,” Hast said in her opening statement.
Hast said the woman and Weinstein met at a Hollywood party in February 2013 and Weinstein appeared to take an instant liking to her. They had several follow up meetings, ostensibly to talk about her career, but things turned more and more sexual, the prosecutor said.
At one meeting, Weinstein tried to give the woman a massage, only for her to rebuff him and offer him a massage instead, Hast said. At another meeting, the prosecutor said Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on the woman.
The day of the alleged rape, Hast said, the woman and her actress roommate were supposed to meet Weinstein for breakfast, but instead the woman and Weinstein got into a heated confrontation that he demanded they finish in his hotel room.
There, Hast said, Weinstein started ripping the woman’s clothes off and raped her. The prosecutor said Weinstein raped the woman again in November 2013 when she was working as a hairdresser and went to cut his hair.
Weinstein has not been charged in that alleged incident.
His lawyers note that the woman’s emails continued after the second alleged rape. In February 2017, she wrote Weinstein to tell him she had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t make it to a hotel to see him.
“I love you, always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call,” she wrote, adding a smiling-face symbol afterward.