NEW YORK – A key witness in Harvey Weinstein’s sex-crimes trial in New York was cross-examined on Monday by the disgraced film producer’s defense team, who tried to discredit her rape allegations by saying she used him to forge a career in Hollywood.
Jessica Mann, a former actress who said she was not being represented by an attorney, was unable to give clear “yes” or “no” answers to many of the piercing questions, but provided greater details of a relationship Weinstein’s attorneys said she sought to leverage for professional gain.
“I engaged with my abuser because of what I believed in my mind and the perception of the society I lived in … it was always in my best interest to feel that the temperature gauge between us was going to be okay,” Mann said.
One of Weinstein’s attorneys, Donna Rotunno, confronted the witness with a series of e-mails the two exchanged until 2016, asking her, for example, why she met with Weinstein in a Manhattan hotel, where she alleges that he raped her in 2013, if she feared him and why it did not occur to her to meet up with him in another place.
Mann lost her composure only once during an initial three hours of questioning when she recalled a 2013 incident in a hotel when he urinated on her.
“I was shocked by it. It was gross. I turned into the corner of the shower and just looked away,” she said with a trembling voice as Weinstein listened impassively a few meters away.
Later Monday, however, she suffered a panic attack while reading an e-mail in court in which she mentioned being sexually assaulted when she was younger; Mann was unable to continue on the witness stand and the trial was adjourned until Tuesday.
Mann was one of six women to take the stand in the trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against the 67-year-old Weinstein, who faces five felony counts: two counts of rape, one count of criminal sexual act and two counts of predatory sexual assault.
The charges are primarily based on the testimony of Mann and one of the other accusers, Miriam Haley, who has testified that Weinstein assaulted her.
If convicted of predatory sexual assault, Weinstein could be sentenced to life in prison.
Mann, who on Friday gave a graphic account of the alleged abuse and even spoke of the defendant’s “deformed and intersex” genitals, went on Monday into more detail about her sexual relationship with the Hollywood mogul.
“The more I realized I was just being used, I tried not to have sexual encounters with him … Sometimes he just wanted to masturbate while holding me,” Mann said.
Regarding one e-mail message in which she told the producer she wanted to introduce him to her mother, Mann said her mother was being very insistent because she “knew something was wrong.”
Referring to other e-mails in which she acted in an affectionate manner toward Weinstein, the accuser said she didn’t want Weinstein to perceive her as a threat.
The witness, who said she was an insecure person in her 20s at the time the alleged crimes occurred, said she kept her sexual relationship with Weinstein, including two alleged incidences of rape in 2013 and 2014, a complete secret.
Weinstein’s defense team repeatedly asked Mann if she, with her regular requests to see the producer, had manipulated her client. On one occasion, the witness responded, “How I handled it and survived it I guess you can say manipulation.”
On Tuesday, the defense team will question another witness, Tarale Wulff, whom the prosecution called to bolster its accusation that Weinstein was a sexual predator.
Separately, Weinstein was charged last month in Los Angeles with rape and sexual assault based on the allegations of two women.
Weinstein, the producer of Hollywood blockbusters such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love,” has pleaded not guilty to the charges in the New York trial and denies all accusations of non-consensual sex.
Investigations carried out by The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine in 2017 uncovered sex-crime allegations against Weinstein stretching back decades and led to the rise of the #MeToo movement, which encourages sexual assault victims to come forward.