The woman whose rape allegation led to criminal charges against Harvey Weinstein has started giving evidence in a pivotal moment for both sides in his trial.
The woman told the jury that 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.”
Prosecutors are hoping her evidence will hammer home the most serious charges in a case that stems from the allegations of 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.
His 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 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.
His 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 defence says the messages point to a consensual relationship, not a 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 led to charges in the New York case. Mimi Haleyi, a former production assistant for Project Runway, said 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 gave evidence 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 told the trial 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 happened.
But Barbara Ziv, a sex crimes expert called by the prosecution as a witness, told the court 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, Dr Ziv said.