Harvey Weinstein’s former British assistant said Wednesday that a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) she had to sign when she left his film company was “morally lacking in every way” and failed to stop the movie producer’s harassment and abuse of women.
Zelda Perkins quit Weinstein’s firm, Miramax, in 1998 along with a colleague who accused the movie mogul of trying to rape her. Each received a £125,000 (C$227,303) settlement and signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Perkins told a committee of British lawmakers that she felt “defrauded” by the agreement, which she said contained clauses intended to stop Weinstein from sexually harassing or abusing staff.
“I believed we had done the best we could in terms of stopping his behaviour,” Perkins told Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee. “Essentially we were defrauded.”
The committee is investigating sexual harassment and the use of non-disclosure agreements.
The former assistant said she wasn’t aware of any allegations of sexual assault until a younger colleague came to her in distress during the 1998 Venice Film Festival and said Weinstein had tried to rape her. The pair flew back to England and went to lawyers “with the presumption that we were going to prosecute him in court.”
The lawyers told the pair that they could not prosecute in England because the alleged crime took place in Italy but the two women ended up negotiating a settlement.
While Perkins managed to get the agreement to impose conditions on Weinstein, she said the negotiating process “was humiliating and degrading. I was made to feel like I was in the wrong for trying to expose his behaviour.”
Perkins was told that she would be held responsible if her family or friends disclosed details of Weinstein’s behaviour. She was also told she couldn’t see a therapist unless the therapist also signed an NDA.
She wasn’t allowed to have a copy of the agreement that she had signed. Perkins said the experience left her “trapped in a vortex of fear.”
“I was told clearly it was a very broad agreement and, basically, I just couldn’t ever say anything about anything to anybody, and just the safest thing was to erase the entire last four years of my life pretty much from my memory,” she said of the NDA.
The NDA committed Weinstein to attend therapy and required the company to act if he made any more payouts over alleged wrongdoing. Perkins said she has no evidence that these actions were carried out.
At least 75 women have told the news media that Weinstein harassed, behaved inappropriately toward them or assaulted them. He denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex.
The agreement that Perkins signed kept her quiet about Weinstein’s behaviour for almost 20 years.
He continued to be one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers until last year when women — including Hollywood stars — publicly accused him of groping, exposing himself to them or forcing them into unwanted sex.
Weinstein has since been fired by the company he co-founded and expelled by Hollywood’s film academy. Police in the U.S. and Britain are investigating multiple claims of sexual assault.
Perkins said her experience shows that NDAs can be used to let perpetrators get away with wrongdoing while silencing their victims.
“The problem is they are used abusively and within the law. There isn’t enough regulation and there isn’t a framework to protect the victims of the situation,” she said.
Perkins said that she tried to make sure the NDA contained restrictions on Weinstein’s future conduct, but that they were never adhered to.
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She said she had barely heard of Weinstein when she began working for Miramax in London. She called him a challenging employer.
“Everybody knew that he had a roving eye and he pushed it with women,” she said. She also said that Weinstein had a fearsome temper and didn’t respect usual office boundaries, sometimes walking around naked or in his underwear.
“I was 22 and I was like, ‘OK, this is what it must be like in the big league,”’ Perkins told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “This guy is really important — he doesn’t have time to wear his trousers.”
“I think I’m only just beginning to realize what it stole from me,” Perkins said of her experience with Weinstein. “It stole my belief and my confidence in myself and in society.”
Perkins went on to say that the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against harassment and inequality have made her feel “hugely liberated” and have given her faith again in society.
“The fact that Harvey was the beginning of this snowball, to me, is just completely thrilling.”
— With files from the Associated Press