LONDON — Harvey Weinstein’s former British assistant said Wednesday that a gag order 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-pound ($177,000) settlement and signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Perkins told a committee of British lawmakers that she felt “defrauded” by the agreement, which contained clauses intended to stop Weinstein from sexually harassing or abusing staff.
The agreement 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.
Multiple women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault over many years. He denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex.
“I believed we had done the best we could in terms of stopping his behavior,” 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, or NDAs.
NDAs are common in the corporate world, but Perkins said her experience shows they can be used to let perpetrators get away with wrongdoing while silencing their victims.
“The problem is they are used abusively … and there isn’t enough regulation and there isn’t a framework to protect the victims of the situation,” she said.
The agreement Perkins signed kept her quiet about Weinstein’s behavior 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 was in her early 20s and 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. He had a fearsome temper and didn’t respect usual office boundaries, sometimes walking around naked or in his underwear, she said.
“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.”
Perkins 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.”
Told they could not prosecute in England because the alleged crime took place in Italy, 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 behavior.”
She was told she would be held responsible if her family or friends disclosed details of Weinstein’s behavior. She couldn’t see a therapist unless the therapist also signed a non-disclosure agreement. Perkins was not even allowed to have a copy of the agreement she had signed.
Perkins said the experience left her “trapped in a vortex of fear.”
“I think I’m only just beginning to realize what it stole from me,” Perkins said of her experience with Weinstein and his lawyers. “It stole my belief and my confidence in myself and in society.”
Perkins said the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against harassment and inequality which have erupted in the wake of the Weinstein revelations have made her feel “hugely liberated” and given her faith again in society.
“The fact that Harvey was the beginning of this snowball, to me, is just completely thrilling.”
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