Harvey Weinstein enlisted private security agencies staffed with operatives "highly experienced and trained in Israel's elite military and governmental intelligence units" to collect information on women and journalists who tried to expose sexual harassment allegations against him, according to an explosive story by Ronan Farrow published in the New Yorker recently.
"Over the course of a year, Weinstein had the agencies 'target,' or collect information on, dozens of individuals and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focused on their personal or sexual histories," Farrow reports. "Weinstein monitored the progress of the investigations personally. He also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating."
If you want to understand the sexual harassment and assault epidemic oozing from the halls of just about every bastion of power and influence in this country – Hollywood, politics, media, tech – it's a must-read.
It details the lengths to which one man would go to protect his kingdom, and unveils the legions who would sign on to help him.
Never miss a local story.
It illustrates the lengths to which journalists must go to expose such characters, and underscores the legions of editors and attorneys who need to sign on to help them.
And, it reveals, more than anything, what victims of harassment and assault are up against when they try to out their tormentors.
Not every predator has Weinstein's money or connections. Israeli spies are not in most people's playbooks.
But people who wield their power to prey on other people are often quite adept at holding onto that power by any means necessary. And that cuts across industries.
No one knows that better than the people abused by that power.
Sex abuse victims struggle to lose pounds put on as protective measure
"Two private investigators from Black Cube, using false identities, met with the actress Rose McGowan, who eventually publicly accused Weinstein of rape, to extract information from her," Farrow reports. "One of the investigators pretended to be a women's-rights advocate and secretly recorded at least four meetings with McGowan. The same operative, using a different false identity and implying that she had an allegation against Weinstein, met twice with a journalist to find out which women were talking to the press."
("Wouldn't it be easier," a colleague mused over coffee, "to just stop harassing people?")
The story, more than any I've read since The New York Times broke the Weinstein story last month, answers that pesky, perennial question: Why didn't all these women come forward sooner?
People have been asking it since Bill Cosby. They ask it every time there's a high-profile sexual harassment or assault case.
They build theories around the women's perceived silence: They must be lying. They must want money. They must want fame. (I find the fame one especially baffling. Have you seen how easily folks find fame on YouTube? You can literally open boxes and snare 2 million subscribers.)
As Farrow's story proves, the women weren't silent; they were silenced. And those who still haven't come forward, well, can you really blame them?
"Another firm, the Los Angeles-based psops, and its lead private investigator, Jack Palladino, as well as another one of its investigators, Sara Ness, produced detailed profiles of various individuals in the saga, sometimes of a personal nature, which included information that could be used to undermine their credibility," Farrow writes. "One report on McGowan that Ness sent to Weinstein last December ran for more than 100 pages and featured McGowan's address and other personal information, along with sections labeled 'Lies/Exaggerations/Contradictions,' 'Hypocrisy,' and 'Potential Negative Character Wits,' an apparent abbreviation of 'witnesses. One subhead read 'Past Lovers.'"
It's chilling, spy novel-worthy stuff. But the characters are real, and so are the consequences.
We owe it to survivors everywhere to read it, internalize it and, most of all, recall it next time we're tempted to ask what took so long for allegations to surface.
A world of hurt often awaits survivors who come forward. Ask yourself, honestly, what you would do in their shoes.
(Contact Heidi Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.)