My senior year of college a girl who was becoming a very good friend told me something she had only shared with her parents: She was raped her freshmen year on campus while walking back to her dorm. Her story saddened me and her trust in me touched my heart, but there was a part of me that judged her because I was the person who said “that can’t happen to me.” Rape, sexual harassment, discrimination.
After two years as PA to Harvey Weinstein, I think about how many times I was too quick to judge. I think about how I thought I could control each situation.
As I was nearing my one-year mark at The Weinstein Company (TWC), I finally gathered the courage to talk to my boss, Harvey Weinstein, about my future with the company. I reiterated to him that I did not see myself in the personal assistant (PA) role for longer than two years and asked if we could explore options for me in PR. His eyes started to twinkle, almost as if he had me right where he wanted me. I immediately started to regret everything I just said.
He put his hand on my bare shoulder, repeatedly squeezed and let go. He proceeded to say, “Well Sandeep, I’ve made waitresses into models and production assistants into actresses. So we can figure something out.” Then he delivered the line that he dictated and I had typed one too many times, “Why don’t you meet me at The Greenwich Hotel for a drink tonight?”
There was so much I wanted to say, but I couldn’t because he was my boss. Then my phone rang and I released my breath — it was Lili calling for her dad. For the first time, I was so happy she was calling. I handed Harvey my Blackberry and walked away. Little did I know at the time, but that conversation wasn’t over; it was only to be continued.
I was scared, but the truth was that I had been equally scared many times before this incident. I decided this time to say something to HR. The meeting was quick and I came out of Frank Gil’s office, the head of Human Resources, feeling uneasy, like I had broken some kind of rule. The sexual harassment, verbal assault, emotional and physical abuse from Harvey and his family not only continued, but escalated. Why? Because it was a fear-driven company and HR was merely a label to meet a requirement.
This has to change. For me, whether workplace polices are helping prevent sexual harassment is the latter question. Employers can check off boxes by showing their employees videos and requiring everyone to take quizzes, but really the solution is simple. Employees should know who to talk to, what to complain about and feel comfortable doing it. I would have felt comfortable if my employer, TWC, had taken my complaints seriously and responded by taking action when I spoke up. Instead, Harvey faced no consequences and the company’s silence only empowered him to continue this culture in the office. I became more scared of not just speaking up again, but of even showing that the harassment was bothersome.
Currently, this topic has momentum, but in my opinion this conversation will come and go in the public eye. The key is that women in the workplace need to be communicative with each other. After I came out with my story, a dozen former female colleagues reached out to me — some to congratulate me on my bravery, others to tell me it also happened to them and a few who we referred to in the office as “friends” of Harvey revealed that the “friendship” was unwanted and forced with false promises. These women, like me, were offered settlements, silenced by fear and threatened with legal action because we had all signed NDAs.
Employees should know who to talk to, what to complain about and feel comfortable doing it.
Today I think about if only I had told the LA assistant why I was crying in the bathroom after the movie premiere, we could have helped each other and made our claims together. Women have to be supportive and non-judgmental. Instead of being in competition with each other, we should be advocates for one another.
When I first took the position in Harvey’s office, some paperwork had to be taken care of. A lot of it looked familiar, but many of the pages including a Non-Disclosure Agreement were things I was seeing for the first time. I wasn’t given an opportunity to ask questions, I was told to sign and copies would be provided to me later. I signed waivers I didn’t even know I was signing.
I am optimistic that agreements such as these, ones that enable abusers and silence women, will be altered or completely eliminated from company protocol. Even still, when first starting a new position, ask questions and even after answers are provided, do your own research. Know what your rights are and assert them. Don’t let such agreements keep you silent and, as a result, allow perpetrators to continue their behavior.
I thought because I worked directly for the Co-Chairman it was out of the company’s hands to enforce polices and consequences. It is the company’s responsibility to create a safe work environment, if it fails to do so, then the company is liable. I wish I had held my employer accountable sooner. As the CEO goes, the culture follows.
When first starting a new position, ask questions and even after answers are provided, do your own research. Know what your rights are and assert them.
After I left The Weinstein Company in 2015, I felt like I had forgotten how to be human. Things like meeting friends for coffee and spending the holidays with my family didn’t feel normal. In a way, I didn’t know how to live without barked orders, humiliation and abuse. I used the toxicity of Harvey Weinstein’s office as my threshold to measure love, respect and happiness in my life. Anyone who treated me better than Harvey, and any situation that was better than the highs and lows of that office was good enough. I felt such disgust for the names in his rolodex that I wanted nothing to do with anyone in his circle. I forwent opportunities with magazines and in fashion because of their ties with Harvey.
Just a simple mention of his name caused vivid flashbacks. I wish I had talked about my experience sooner, perhaps to a therapist, but definitely to friends and family. When you endure something so traumatic, like sexual assault or domestic abuse, you can’t just expect to pick up where you left off. There is a healing process which involves a variety of emotions: sadness, anger, revenge, maybe even forgiveness. For a couple of years, I didn’t allow myself to feel; I’ve only now just starting coping with my injuries. I wish I had just committed to radical self-care.
So, where do we go from here? Right now, we’re not done telling our stories, so keep listening. We need women in those corner offices. We need transparency in the workplace. We need women to talk about fair wages and the uncomfortable social exchanges. We need to bring our experiences into the light.
My experience has forever changed me and my relationship with society. For too long Harvey paralyzed me, but today I am sending him a message: I will not live a smaller life as a result.
Illustrations via Cori Maass