London - Harvey Weinstein’s former assistant has told British MPs she tried to stop the disgraced film mogul’s sex abuse 20 years ago.
Zelda Perkins said she took action in 1998 after a colleague at his film company Miramax said Weinstein had tried to rape her.
She ‘naively’ thought that reporting his alleged abuse to the firm’s family-friendly parent company Disney would result in his dismissal.
Instead, she was warned against speaking out – and both women quit their jobs at Weinstein’s London office after signing agreements forbidding them to discuss the incident.
‘I was made to feel like I was in the wrong for trying to expose his behaviour,’ she told the Commons women and equalities committee yesterday.
Miss Perkins, then only 22, said that her attempt to stand up for another young woman had ruined her career, which ‘basically came to a halt’.
‘I attempted several interviews but the film industry is very incestuous and Harvey at the time was the kingpin.’
Since October last year, Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment and rape over several decades by a string of actresses and assistants.
Miss Perkins said ‘everybody knew that he had a roving eye and he pushed it with women’, adding that he often walked around the office in his underwear. ‘I was 22 and I was like “OK, this is what it must be like in the big league... this guy is really important, he doesn’t have time to wear his trousers”.’
She said that ‘on every occasion I was alone with him’ he would asked her for a massage while in his underwear. ‘I often had to wake him up in the hotel in the mornings and he would try to pull me into bed.’ She decided to act when her colleague said Weinstein had tried to rape her at the Venice Film Festival.
She told the committee: ‘When somebody comes to you and says that has happened there is not much choice about what you should do.’
However, she was advised by lawyers that she and the alleged victim would be ‘utterly crushed’ if they tried to take on Weinstein. They were also told that no legal action could be taken in the UK because the alleged crime had occurred in Italy.
She told MPs she felt ‘trapped in a vortex of fear’.
Both women left Miramax and later moved abroad. They signed a non-disclosure agreement and were given payments of £175,000.
The agreement committed Weinstein to have therapy for three years, but Miss Perkins said she had ‘no idea’ if that happened. She told MPs she had felt compelled to sign the ‘stringent and egregious’ contract after ‘humiliating and degrading’ talks that finally ended at 5am after a 12-hour meeting.
She told the committee, which was investigating workplace harassment and the use of non-disclosure deals, that Miramax had offered her more money to stay.
‘Harvey wanted to keep his enemies close,’ she said. ‘We were more valuable staying within the company than leaving. He offered us more money – whatever we wanted.’
There had been a ‘clear admission of guilt throughout the process, really’, she said.
Miss Perkins refused to stay in her job but found it difficult to get a new one in the industry. When she met Weinstein a year later at a film festival ‘he told me that everything I had done was pointless’.
Asked if she was happy with the agreement she signed, she said no, adding: ‘I believed we had done the best we could in terms of stopping his behaviour. Essentially we were defrauded.
‘We signed that agreement with the belief that Miramax and Harvey Weinstein would uphold their obligations.’
She said non-disclosure agreements shouldn’t ‘cover up criminality’ and should not have applied in her case. There was also a ‘disparity’ between his legal firepower and hers, she said, adding that she felt her own legal team were ‘out of their depth’.
She told MPs that she had been let down by the law and the procedure for reporting crimes, because in this instance the complaint would have gone to Weinstein himself as the company’s overall boss. The Weinstein Company — founded after he left Miramax in 2005 — filed for bankruptcy this month and freed all its employees from non-disclosure agreements they may have signed.
Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex but has apologised for his behaviour towards women.