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Tuesday, Oct 20, 2020

They Each Broke Their Silence About Harvey Weinstein. At His Rape Trial, They’re Finding Support In Each Other.

The Silence Breakers have formed a sisterhood through mutual trauma. This is how they’re surviving.

On the morning that Annabella Sciorra was due to testify against Harvey Weinstein, two women stood shivering outside the Supreme Court of New York. They were flanked by journalists, separated from Weinstein by a metal barricade. As they watched him hobble past them into the building, one of the women, an actor named Katherine Kendall, gasped and drew back, a hand over her mouth. The second woman, Louise Godbold, turned to Kendall and held out her hand - “Are you all right?” she asked. Wordlessly, Kendall gripped her arm and nodded.

The story of what Weinstein allegedly did to women has been characterized as many things: a story about power dynamics in the workplace and the way Hollywood treats women; a culture of complicity and silence; the feat of incredible journalism it took to uncover it; and a reckoning, possibly the reckoning of our time. Now, as his criminal trial is underway, it has become a story about the judicial system, and whether it can keep up with a rapidly evolving culture against abuse.

But for the women at the heart of it, the Silence Breakers, this is a story about the power of friendship between women, and its ability to both fracture and heal. Of the more than 90 women who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, many only learned about each other's experiences through the news. As the number of alleged victims grew, these women began to reach out to one another, share their experiences, and gradually, to heal.

These days, much of their solidarity plays out on Twitter: the women retweet one another, share news from the trial, send supportive messages to one another and to survivors from other cases of sexual assault. However, there is more that binds the group than just sharing an alleged abuser: it is a particular experience of buried shame and trauma, of having experienced a certain kind of humiliation, then living through years - in some cases decades - of seeing their abuser celebrated by the industry they worked in, and feeling like they would never be believed.

Later that day, Kendall and Godbold were joined by the actor Ellen Barkin. The three women spent over five hours waiting in the cold with the rest of the public in a queue outside the courtroom. When they made it inside the room to bear witness to Sciorra’s testimony, they sat silently at the back of the room, holding on to each other, blinking back tears. As Sciorra revealed in graphic detail the sequence of her own assault, Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno asked Sciorra, “Who were your friends at the time?” Later, when Sciorra said she had recounted the assault to the actor Rosie Perez, Rotunno asked:

“Did Rosie Perez call you on a daily or weekly basis and say ‘How are you doing?’ after that horrible attack?”

“No.”

“So, you told her and then it was gone, nobody ever talked about it again?”

The question hung in the air long after the courtroom had wrapped up its proceedings for the day. The jury of seven men and five women would now have to consider something millions of people across the world have struggled to answer: What is the right thing to do when your friend tells you she’s been raped?

The question reappeared the next day. The model Kara Young and Perez herself appeared in court to corroborate their friend Sciorra’s version of events. The question, and its implications - that either Sciorra’s testimony was false, or that the women had been bad friends - was ultimately the thing that brought Young and Perez to tears. Perez, who has previously written about being a survivor of childhood abuse, said she panicked and went into shock when Sciorra told her she’d been raped.

“When she told you that, you didn't go to her house? You didn't call the police? You didn't do any of that?” Weinstein’s attorney Damon Cheronis asked her.

“I thought I was being respectful,” Perez said. “You know, you have a friend, a girlfriend, who tells you something like that, you don't know what to do. You don't know if you want to overstep your bounds and do something like that.”

Young testified that when she met Sciorra after the assault (though it was not clear how much later), her friend was “fidgety and nervous... she seemed like a mess” with “cuts between her legs, on her upper thighs.” Sciorra had previously testified about the terrifying ways in which she had self-harmed after the alleged assault -and now, Young bolstered that testimony. Weinstein’s lawyer Arthur Aidala asked her versions of the same question Cheronis had posed to Perez: “You didn't call anyone to help you help your friend, did you?”

“Please answer in yes or no,” Judge James Burke reminded each person on the stand, yet those words never seemed enough to explain why each woman responded in the way she did. In their questioning, Weinstein’s attorneys were blaming not just victims, but also their friends -conjuring up idealized human relations: a woman who immediately calls her friend after being raped, a friend who shows up at once, takes her to a doctor, then the police, the two of them saving and recording evidence together, fairly, responsibly, going through life with their traumas neatly hidden and yet visible to all - a normal, rational person’s response to a situation that was neither normal nor rational.

Godbold sat in the back of the courtroom as Sciorra testified about her alleged rape, and how she had recounted what happened to her to Perez. Among the first people Godbold had told about the time Weinstein allegedly assaulted her was her closest friend, Lysette Anthony. The two women had known each other for years and maintained a close friendship despite living in different countries - Godbold in Austria, and Anthony in the US.

“I had been producing commercials in Europe, and obviously Hollywood is where everything happens,” Godbold told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. “So I wanted to see if it would be possible to have a career in Hollywood.” Godbold said she had met Weinstein in London once, and then ran into him again at a brunch party thrown by Anthony. “I met him and his brother, which gave me a false sense of security because, obviously, it was a brunch party, he wasn't going to lunge at you. So I felt like I knew him. And I think that's what made it more shocking.”When she said Weinstein attempted to assault Godbold at the party, by kissing and groping her, she "completely froze.”

Later, she told Anthony what had happened. Anthony, Godbold said, responded with what she took to be anger.

Weinstein meanwhile tried to make amends with Godbold. “He said that he would make it up to me. He knew that I was coming to LA, he would meet with me and give me some names of people who would be able to help me with my project. At the time I thought he seemed very apologetic.”

Without telling Anthony, Godbold decided she would meet with Weinstein in LA - she said she needed the professional contacts, and Weinstein’s apology seemed genuine.

At the meeting, Weinstein assaulted Godbold for a second time, she said, by first demanding a massage from her, then attempting to massage her without her consent.

“He deliberately got what he wanted by being so contradictory - he was warm and wanting to be your mentor one minute; the next moment he was berating you, like, ‘Well, you're never going to make it in the industry.’ And so he kept you off balance,” Godbold said. “That moment while you're frozen, when your brain is trying to figure out what the hell to do, he was very skilled in being able to take advantage of that moment. He deliberately increased that confusion by saying, ‘Well, I'm only asking you to do this, just do this and then you can go.’ He would do everything he could to get his way.”

“When he assaulted me again in LA, I was too embarrassed and too full of shame to tell Lysette [Anthony] about it,” Godbold told me. The two women drifted apart. “Even though there was a period when we were both living in Los Angeles... the friendship, it just grew... we just grew very distant.”

But Anthony, in Godbold’s words, was “already holding this huge secret from me.”

“She had been raped by him before,” Godbold said over the phone last week. When Anthony snapped when she heard what had happened to her friend all those years ago, Godbold thought it was because she was angry that she had put herself in that situation with Weinstein. It took years for Godbold to realize that Anthony had not been angry, but afraid.
The two women, both locked in their private shame, finally reconnected in October 2017, when stories about Weinstein’s assaults were reported in the New York Times and the New Yorker. They had gone 27 years without speaking to each other.

“For me, the most beautiful thing to come out of this whole #MeToo and Weinstein case is that we were finally able to talk to each other honestly,” Godbold told me. “And the friendship is as solid as it ever was, but we've lost years of friendship because of what Harvey did... so, yes, it was terrifically isolating because now you know the whole backstory. It isolated me from my closest friend.”

In the “lost years,” as Godbold described them, she made studying trauma and its effects on human behavior her life’s purpose. Now, as the executive director of a trauma support and resilience training program called Echo Training, Godbold has been helping other survivors - including the Silence Breakers, the group of over 90 women who have accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting them - navigate the complex web of their own triggers.

“We are a sorority, the Silence Breakers,” she said on the phone this week. “We are all in touch with each other. We have formed a sisterhood.”

Later, on another phone call, Rosanna Arquette used the same word - sisterhood -to describe the bond between her and other Weinstein survivors.

“It is a sisterhood, almost like, you know, when girls are all together in a boarding school, and they end up getting their periods together,” the actor said, laughing. “There's some energy transfer thing that happens, you know, that's kind of what we all have gone through.”

But sisterhood -unlike, say, a group, a gang, a clique of girlfriends -has deep, messy, complicated ties. While the Silence Breakers have forged a bond through their mutual experience of trauma, simply being able to call your girlfriend isn’t enough to undo what they describe as years of professional and personal loss. Perhaps the most damaging aspect of being a public “Weinstein survivor” is the very real professional cost of speaking up about one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.


Godbold, on her Twitter, frequently calls out media outlets who refuse to acknowledge her work and her expertise on trauma. “It’s as if I can’t be both an expert and a survivor,” she said.

Arquette, who starred in Pulp Fiction, distributed by Weinstein’s Miramax Films, is among the women who have been the most vocal about what the costs of speaking out about Weinstein’s abuse has meant, including a sharp decrease in the number of roles offered, what she said were polite and often harsh reminders to “just shut up and stop talking about it already.”

“I've seen all my contemporaries receive awards and work,” she told me. “It's an increasingly great backlash for women to come out, but it [the movement] is also growing and more women are finally coming in able to tell their stories and their truth. I’m glad that I’ve bonded with all these women, but I’ve also never felt as isolated as I have in the last year or six months.”

“It’s funny...there’s a lot of sadness coming up for me right now,” she said, her voice breaking on the phone.

Arquette said she only heard from a handful of people while she was in New York, feverish, and waiting for the trial to begin. “I also was very, very, very sick. But no one reached out, except the other women I was standing with.”

Sarah Ann Masse was a struggling actor when she first met Weinstein, when she was interviewing for a job to babysit his children. Masse recently tweeted about that meeting, quote-tweeting a Twitter thread that asked people to describe their worst job interview.

Masse has alleged that Weinstein, dressed in boxers and an undershirt, said several inappropriate things to her, grabbed her, pressed his groin into her, and whispered “I love you.”

After she escaped and ran from Weinstein’s house, Masse told me, she pulled back from her career significantly.

“I only felt capable of doing work where I knew everybody, where I could be in control,” she told me over the phone. “I was afraid to go on auditions and to go to meetings -I didn't want to be alone in rooms with strange men. I also was afraid that somebody might know Harvey.”


Masse recently wrote a piece for the Wrap titled “Why Aren’t Silence Breakers Getting Hired?” Twelve years after her meeting with Weinstein, Masse told me that she still felt afraid to meet with people she didn’t know. “My husband will drive me to the place or he'll sit in the waiting room,” she said. “I lost years of my career because of this. Once that happens to you in that environment, every time you walk into a setting like that you're afraid.”

With every passing day, as more women take the stand to testify against Weinstein, a fresh round of anxieties emerges for the Silence Breakers. Very few of the women will actually make it to Manhattan for the entire trial, which is expected to last until March 6, and even fewer will actually appear on the stand -the prosecution’s charges rest on two women, with four being called to establish a predatory pattern. Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex.

However, many Silence Breakers are following the news to see what happens to their fellow survivors in court. On the days leading up to the famous Jan. 6 press conference outside the Manhattan courthouse where Weinstein’s trial is being held, with Masse, Arquette, Barkin, Kendall, Godbold, Rose McGowan, and other Silence Breakers, Masse said she was sick to her stomach constantly.

“I was terrified. I stood there with my sisters, we were trembling and crying, but seeing him made me feel strong. It made me realize how far we've come and how powerful we are. And he was so cowardly. He wouldn't look at us, and it was so abundantly clear that he was afraid that he was in a position now to finally be held accountable,” she said.

For about two or three days after the trial began, Masse said she felt better than she had in many years.

“And then just like that, I had another severe panic attack, like everything coming crashing down on me,” she said.

The hardest and most important thing to remember, she said, was that “we are powerful, we are strong. We've made so much progress, but it doesn't erase the pain and fear and loss and grief we’ve all experienced.” The only silver lining, she said, is that since the silence was broken, each woman has somebody to lean on.

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