Once upon a time, that name evoked thoughts of a powerful Hollywood film producer with a midas touch. Now that name evokes thoughts of a degenerate individual with a tainted touch—one that intimidated women’s psyches and abused their bodies.
This isn’t the first time a powerful man has leveraged sexual encounters for the promise of professional advancement or a richer life. Among many are legendary tales of Hollywood casting couches and Oval Office trysts. What is different is that women are now becoming empowered to tell the nasty tales rather than hide in the shadows of shame that imprint their lives once they are abused.
When I was younger, I indignantly railed against women who were members of the secret society of sexually abused and intimated. Why would you allow the story of a man illicitly invading your body to go untold, not only protecting the degenerate, but leaving future women vulnerable to such attacks.
Then it happened to me.
I was on assignment in California for a national magazine. My subject was a wealthy, powerful businessman, internationally known for his strategic vision. It was a plum assignment made sweeter by the invitation from the man and his wife to stay in their guest quarters on their estate. I felt as if I’d hit the big time in my journalistic career.
Upon my arrival, my hosts decreed that business could wait as they had made plans for us to go to dinner at first class hotel on the ocean. It was further decreed that the wife and I would drive to dinner together while the husband would travel in his own car, having business to attend to beforehand.
Ultimately, the night unfolded like a scene from a Hollywood movie. We were seated on a private terrace with the sight and sounds of the ocean as our backdrop. We were personally served fine wine and gourmet food by the renown hotel chef. As an evening chill arrived, towers of sleek propane heaters magically wrapped warmth around us. All the while we engaged in dinner conversation dripping with references to the rich and famous. My reporter’s mind was whirling with details and interview questions.
When our oceanside gourmet experience came to an end, my interviewee asked that I ride back to their estate with him. He suggested we chat a bit about the article to come and schedule our times to meet. Like a lamb to the slaughter, I eagerly agreed and slid into the passenger side of his sleek and gleaming Porsche.
The memory of what happened next is indelibly etched into my body but murkily stored within my mind. I know that I buckled my seat belt. I remember looking over and smiling at this man of power and wealth. Then it began. He reached across the console of the car and started fondling my breasts. I was stunned. While I knew what my body was feeling, my mind was grappling. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? What about his wife?
Within seconds that felt like hours, I pushed away his hands and told him to stop. He simply laughed and continued and continued, even as he drove, prodding my body as if I were a piece of meat.
When at last we arrived at his estate, I bolted from the car and ran off to my room. Once inside, I locked the door and sank to the floor in a stupor. My mind was racing trying to understand what had just happened and what I was going to do about it. I was on the interview assignment of a lifetime for a national magazine. My subject was a man revered and admired on a world scale. His wife seemed like a lovely woman and they spoke of a close circle of family and friends. None of it made sense.
Ultimately, I called a girlfriend back in Buffalo. With the three hour time difference, it was well after midnight when her phone rang. However my stalwart friend quickly awoke when she heard my tearful story. As we talked, we reviewed the night’s happenings and my possible options. Finally we agreed I would do everything within my power to not be alone with the man, to get the interview done and leave as soon as possible. It was a flawed plan, but seemed like the best of a lot of lousy options.
The next morning I walked to the main house with my heart in my throat. What would the man say or do in the presence of his wife? How would he act? How would I manage my edgy emotions in front of both of them?
Unbelievably, the man went about the morning as if nothing unusual had transpired between us. He was loving to his wife and cordial to me. Later that day we began our interview and he was the model of decorum. I seriously began to wonder if I was losing my mind and had somehow misunderstood or imagined the previous night’s experience.
That evening, my hosts took me to dinner with a large group of their friends.This time we traveled together, giving me some sense that I would be safe from any sexual assaults. At the restaurant, my interviewee hailed me as an honored guest and insisted I sit next to him. Again, like a lamb to the slaughter, I took my place within this man’s reach.
What transpired throughout that dinner is still hard for me to fathom. As the evening evolved my host continually caressed my thigh and reached up under my dress. The shock of his actions rendered me incapable of anything but rote actions. I ordered and ate food. I believe I engaged in some sort of reasonable dinner conversation. All the while I kept pushing away this perverted man’s hands and wondering how no one at the table could see or realize what was going on in their very presence.
The next morning as this man and and his wife and I shared breakfast, he again acted as if nothing had happened. He and I completed our interview that afternoon. I left their estate that evening.
Other than my girlfriend I never told anyone. I was ashamed. I was scared. I wanted to forget.
Most of all, I wasn’t sure if anyone would believe me. And if they did, I was certain this powerful man would retaliate and ultimately ruin my journalist’s reputation.
Today, 15 years later, I realize that all of those reasons are nothing but excuses, none of which are good enough to keep me from speaking out —for myself and for other women whom this man may have abused in the same or worse ways, since my experiences.
The Harvey Weinstein controversy reminds me of the many reasons why women don’t step forward. It also reminds me why I should….and why now, I am.