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Weinstein accusers tell court he excused lewd acts as a film industry norm

Witness Tarale Wulff arrives at the Harvey Weinstein rape trial (AP/Bebeto Matthews)
Witness Tarale Wulff arrives at the Harvey Weinstein rape trial (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

A woman has told jurors that Harvey Weinstein led her to a New York hotel bed and put his hand up her skirt during a 2004 meeting about her acting career.

Another woman, Tarale Wulff, said Weinstein grabbed her arm as she served cocktails at one of his usual Manhattan haunts in 2005, led her towards a darkened area and started masturbating. She alleges Weinstein later raped her.

Ms Wulff and the woman in the alleged hotel encounter, Dawn Dunning, took to the witness stand at Weinstein’s rape trial, describing a powerful Hollywood figure they say preyed on their vulnerabilities while pushing the notion that sex could lead to film roles.

Their allegations are not part of the underlying criminal charges, because of the statute of limitations and other legal reasons, but they could be a big factor in whether he goes to prison at the end of the landmark #MeToo-era trial.

Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein insists all sexual encounters were consensual (AP/Richard Drew)

“I stood up. I was in shock,” Ms Dunning said, fighting back tears as she described a hotel room encounter she said happened when she was 24. “He just started talking really fast. He said, ‘Don’t make a big deal about this. It will never happen again.’”

Asked by prosecutor Meghan Hast whether she was gaining anything by giving evidence at the trial, Ms Dunning responded: “No, if anything I’m losing. This is the worst and hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Weinstein, 67, is charged with forcing oral sex on Mimi Haleyi, at the time a Project Runway production assistant, in 2006 and raping another aspiring actress in 2013. That woman could give evidence later this week.

Weinstein has insisted any sexual encounters were consensual.

His lawyers raised doubts about Ms Wulff’s recollection, after she disclosed that she had worked with a therapist for a year to fill gaps in her memory. For instance, Ms Wulff said, she had no clear memory of how she and Weinstein’s clothing came off.

Weinstein’s lawyers also questioned why Ms Dunning waited until last summer to tell prosecutors that Weinstein had fondled her after she had gone public with the jobs-for-sex allegation, first in an article in The New York Times in October 2017.

Manhattan prosecutors are having Ms Dunning, Ms Wulff and a third woman give evidence under a state law that allows evidence about so-called “prior bad acts”, enabling them to explore things like motive, opportunity, intent and a common scheme or plan.

Jurors have already heard from actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein overpowered and raped her after barging into her apartment in the mid-1990s.

A tearful Ms Haleyi described how she tried to fight off Weinstein before he sexually assaulted her. On Tuesday, Ms Haleyi’s former roommate, Elizabeth Entin, took to the stand to corroborate her evidence.

Mimi Haleyi, right, arriving to give evidence
Mimi Haleyi, right, arriving to give evidence (AP/Mark Lennihan)

Ms Dunning said she met Weinstein while waiting tables at a Manhattan nightclub where bottle service was a trend for the rich and famous.

Weinstein immediately appeared to take an interest in her fledgling acting career, she said, and invited her to a lunch meeting where, noting his infamous temper, she said he was “on the phone a lot yelling at people”.

Several meetings followed, Ms Dunning said, including one at a boutique hotel in Manhattan’s Soho neighbourhood where Weinstein was using a suite as a temporary office. At one point she said Weinstein led her into a bedroom and they sat down on the bed.

She said: “I was wearing a skirt that day and he put his hand up my skirt. There was no red flags or alerts that would make me expect it to happen.”

Sexual Misconduct Weinstein
Weinstein with his lawyer, Donna Rotunno (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Ms Dunning said she “just kind of gave him the benefit of the doubt” when Weinstein said it would not happen again. She said she did not scream or yell and did not tell anyone because she was embarrassed and did not want to be a victim.

Ms Dunning said that she later agreed to meet Weinstein at a cigar bar, but that an assistant took her to a suite where the Pulp Fiction producer was standing in a bathrobe.

There, she said Weinstein showed her a contract for three movie roles she would get on the condition she had “a threesome with his assistant”.

“When he said that, I kind of laughed, I thought he was kidding, and he had kind of a crass sense of humour,” Ms Dunning said. “But when I started laughing, he got really angry and started screaming at me. He said, ‘you’ll never make it in this business, this is how this industry works.’”

She said Weinstein went on to mention actresses Salma Hayek and Charlize Theron, implying they had done similar things to achieve success. Ms Hayek has said that Weinstein repeatedly harassed and bullied her. Ms Theron voiced anger with Weinstein when some of his accusers previously alleged he had suggested they had slept together.

Ms Dunning said she did not know what Weinstein would do next, so she ran for the door and down the hall to the lift. “He was a big guy; he was towering over me. I was really scared,” she said.

Ms Dunning first told the The New York Times about the alleged jobs-for-sex proposals in October 2017, but said she did not disclose the alleged fondling incident to prosecutors until last summer.

Ms Wulff said met Weinstein while working as a cocktail waitress at a members-only club on Broadway. She said she told Weinstein she was an aspiring actress, though she had never performed before.

Ms Wulff leaving court
Ms Wulff leaving court (AP/Richard Drew)

After Weinstein led her to a terrace area, Ms Wulff said she noticed his shirt moving.

“I realised he was masturbating,” she said, adding that she froze and scooted around Weinstein to go back to the bar.

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