Rowena Chiu, a former assistant to Harvey Weinstein, has opened up about what she says was a sexual assault at the hands of the disgraced Hollywood producer and the decades of trauma it caused her.
In an emotional op-ed published Saturday in The New York Times, Chiu described a late-night meeting with Weinstein during the 1998 Venice Film Festival in which he attempted to rape her. She spoke about the “four power dynamics of gender, race, seniority and wealth” that she said tilted in Weinstein’s favor ― an imbalance that had made pushing back and speaking up a towering challenge.
Chiu was then a young woman of color who was saddled with student debt and clinging to the lowest rung of the Hollywood ladder. Weinstein was a multimillionaire and one of the industry’s most influential figures.
“Harvey was a power player, and I was the lowest person on the totem pole,” Chiu said. “Assistants are the unseen work force that props Hollywood up, and yet we have zero leverage. I was invisible and inconsequential.”
"I’ve had many years to ruminate on how I fell into Harvey’s trap, and the best way to understand it is through the four power dynamics of gender, race, seniority and wealth," writes Rowena Chiu https://t.co/4Tixvq26hZ— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) October 5, 2019
Chiu said that on the day of the rape attempt, Weinstein told her “he liked Chinese girls ... because they were discreet, he said ― because they knew how to keep a secret.”
Then, just “before he tried to rape me, [he said] he’d never had a Chinese girl,” she added.
Chiu, who said she had been hired by Weinstein a few months earlier in 1998 and had been bullied by him previously, said she spent hours that night “fending off [Weinstein’s] chitchat, flattery, requests for massages and a bath” before she was ultimately “pushed back against the bed” by her then-boss.
“I’d worn two pairs of tights for protection, and tried to appease him by taking one of them off and letting him massage me, but it hadn’t worked,” Chiu wrote of the assault. “He’d taken off the other pair and I was terrified my underwear would be next. Harvey moved in: Please, he told me, just one thrust, and it will all be over.”
Chiu said she, terrified, had pleaded with Weinstein to let her go and eventually managed to “wriggle off the bed and leave.”
Chiu — who first went public with her allegations against Weinstein in a September “Today” show interview and in “She Said,” a recently published book documenting the Me Too movement — went on to describe how she and a female co-worker later confronted Weinstein about his behavior.
Chiu said, however, that they were laughed at by their senior colleagues and were compelled to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
“When we began attempts to report Harvey to his superiors or the police, multiple senior individuals acted to shut us down. Some outright laughed in our faces. The message was always the same: Who would ever believe us over the most powerful man in Hollywood?” Chiu said.
She added that the negotiations for the NDA had been conducted under “conditions of extreme duress.”
“We were once kept at the office overnight, from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., escorted to the bathroom, provided with the barest minimum of food and drink and not permitted pen and paper to keep notes,” Chiu wrote. “We were not even allowed to keep a copy of this most egregious of agreements: We had signed our lives away in a complex 30-page document that we could not refer to.”
Weinstein denied Chiu’s allegations through a lawyer last month. He claimed he’d had a “six-month physical relationship” with Chiu that was consensual ― a suggestion that Chiu has vehemently denied.
The attorney added that Weinstein was “now studying taking legal action” against Chiu for breaking the NDA, AP reported.
"Harvey [Weinstein] is very persistent. He has a tendency to cajole... he's a very big guy, he pushed me back against the bed and I was petrified and terrified as he tried to rape me," Rowena Chiu is a new Harvey Weinstein accuser who is speaking out for the first time. pic.twitter.com/YGn0wG5tR4— 3rd Hour of TODAY (@3rdHourTODAY) September 9, 2019
Chiu said she’d accepted a settlement of about $213,000 from Weinstein.
But she said her silence came at a far higher price.
In the years following the alleged assault, Chiu said she attempted suicide twice. She felt overwhelmed by the “devastating, suffocating secret” she carried ― one she didn’t dare share with even those closest to her.
“I suffered, completely isolated from those around me who could have provided the support I needed: a loved one, a trusted pastor, a respected therapist — even the man I would marry,” Chiu wrote. “I spent decades grappling with guilt that I took the job, that I hadn’t left the room sooner, that it was somehow my fault, that I hadn’t handled Harvey ‘robustly’ enough, that I was not tough enough to work in the film industry.”
Chiu said she finally decided to come forward with her story after hearing the public testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Brett Kavanaugh, then a nominee for the Supreme Court, of sexual assault. Chiu said she was also inspired by other women who’d told their own Me Too stories about Weinstein and others.
Weinstein has been accused by about 70 women of sexual misconduct ranging from sexual harassment to assault and rape. He has denied all allegations.
Chiu said she felt it was important that she lend her voice ― “an Asian voice, an assistant’s voice, to join the array of voices in the #MeToo movement.”
“I am happy that my children can know my secret; I am grateful to be able to be honest with family and friends, who are coming forward in droves to offer support,” Chiu concluded her op-ed. “I can briefly glory in the relief that I am no longer sitting on a sickening secret that has — finally and ultimately — come to light.”