Imagine this: you go for a meeting with a huge production company, pitching your product and potentially scoring a huge deal for your employer. Naturally, you’re nervous. You know that you not only have to sell a product, but sell working with you, and in turn sell yourself. You’re used to dealing with mostly men in these meetings, men that can be suggestive and inappropriate, but you know how to take them on, volley with them to create that perfect dynamic where the man wants to work with you and doesn’t feel rejected, but knows that your off limits. This is how you score deals with entitled men, because the hurt their ego in any way means they won’t work with you.
You’re expecting a group of people for the meeting, but in walks Harvey Weinstein alone, only known to you as the biggest movie producer in the world and the most powerful person you could have a meeting with at this company. He’s flirting with you, and you know the way to score a deal with a man like this is to flirt back, but of course, you’re not expecting sexual harassment to turn into sexual assault.
This is the scenario is depicted by Melissa Thompson, who this morning shared a video with Sky News that shows a meeting she had with Harvey Weinstein hours before she alleges he raped her. The video is extremely uncomfortable to watch, not only because it shows Weinstein’s predatory tactics, but because as many have reported online, it’s a situation far too familiar for women.
In the video, Weinstein is seen entering the room, telling staff outside not to interrupt him and locking the door behind him. While Thompson offers a handshake greeting, he instead opts to hug her, running his hands around her lower back and saying ‘that’s nice, let’s keep it up’. As they sit down for Thompson to pitch, he asks ‘am I allowed to flirt with you?’, to which Thompson replies ‘erm we’ll see, a little bit’.
Talking Sky News through the video Melissa says:
‘Now I see he's trying, in any way he can, to move me into that zone of comfortable then uncomfortable and confused, and vulnerable, and recognising that he's powerful and I'm not, and that I need this deal from him, and he has the power to give it to me.
‘I think [he] was playing a cat-and-mouse game from the very beginning to see how far he could push me,’ she continued ‘and what my reactions might be, so that he could gauge... how he would play me; where my levers where, what were my vulnerabilities.’
As Weinstein continues to flirt with her, Thompson throws comments back, including ‘data’s so hot right?’ to which Weinstein says ‘it is hot. You’re hot’. Then, Melissa says he reached under the table and ran his hand under her dress, up her leg. This is out of view of the camera, but you do hear him say ‘Let me have a little part of you. Give it to me. It's okay, would you like to do it some more?’ to which she replies ‘A little bit... a little high, that's a little high, that's a little high.’
Thompson is clearly flustered at various intervals throughout the video, and in her attempts to regain control, she says she ‘tried to volley a little bit with him’, creating a dynamic that is uncomfortable to watch. When asked if she thinks she was flirting with Weinstein, she said 'I don't think I purposely encouraged him. I think there was a combination of confidence and naivety that led me to this dynamic that we see now, watching back,’ she said.
‘At first I tried to volley a little bit with him. If he made a comment, I would try to catch it and return it in a way that felt a little safer than the way he threw it at me,’ she continued, ‘I was trying to save face a bit ... trying to manage the situation…I didn't want to blow the meeting.
‘I worked in Wall Street before I went to business school, and I worked in an environment that was heavily male dominated, I thought I could handle it, I had never met anyone that I couldn't handle... until Harvey Weinstein.’
At the end of the meeting, Weinstein asks if she will meet him at the Tribeca Grand hotel lobby restaurant a couple of hours later, at 5.30pm, to which she agrees. ‘It wasn't at 10pm, it wasn't an invitation to go to his hotel room, it was an invitation to come to a hotel lobby that was within blocks of the office and so that to me felt much safer than being alone with him in his office,’ she said.
However, when she arrived she alleges he told her to follow him and while she assumed they were going to a conference room, he led her to his hotel room where she says her raped her. ‘If I would try to fight myself away from him, he would then move around to a place where he could block me in,’ she said, ‘I constantly felt trapped, no matter where I turned. He corned me, over and over again.’
In a statement from Harvey Weinstein's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, he said:
'Several respected journalists and trustworthy individuals have seen the entire video. What they shared with us is that the video, when viewed in its entirety, in context and not in select excerpts, demonstrates that there is nothing forceful, but casual - if not awkward - flirting from both parties.
'Anything short of that is intended to make Mr Weinstein appear inappropriate, and even exploitative. It was produced by Ms Thompson to bolster her position in a civil lawsuit seeking money. This is a further attempt to publicly disgrace Mr Weinstein for financial gain, and we will not stand for it. Facts do matter.'
The video has spawned both support and vitriol online, with many relating to the dynamic shown in the video. ‘It’s so deeply uncomfortable to watch Melissa Thompson's reactions to Harvey Weinstein because they would be MY reactions,’ tweets Soraya Roberts. ’Totally. Laugh it off, play along, because in the end you need his money - and he can burn you if you don’t. So gross,’ agrees Stefani Forster.
Others however, have accused Thompson of lying, claiming that her flirting shows she ‘egged Weinstein on’.
Of course, what those people who accuse Thompson of leading Harvey on are forgetting is that no one ever expects to be raped. You could flirt with someone all night, outrageously, but you would still not expect them to have sex with you without your consent. More than that, they fail to understand the awkward power dynamics that so many women have to deal with whenever they encounter any man. Because, as history has shown, a rejected man is the scariest type of man.
Just look at the headlines in the last 6 months. ‘Texas school shooter “killed girl who turned down his advances”’, writes the Daily Mail, ‘German student admits killing classmate who rejected him’, from USA Today, ‘Teen gets off easy for killing classmate who rejected prom invite’, says New York Post. These are just three of many, many headlines.
And in a situation where you’re expected to sell a product, the dynamic is even more confusing. With a man like Weinstein, who seemingly tries to make women feel vulnerable by saying inappropriate things, throwing that back to him to show you’re in control is a tactic many would utilize. In no way would you assume, when sitting in an office pitching a product, that flirting back would mean he would later rape you.
The ultimate misunderstanding from these people though, is how coercive control works. ‘This subtle intimidation is one of the first warning signs of coercive control,’ writes Matt Barnes, a clinic therapist for The New Social Worker, ‘[Weinstein’s] assistants often arrange the meetings making them seem formal, but after entering his “office,” which is often a hotel room, the assistant allegedly leaves and the illusion of security is erased.’
‘The assistant’s departure cues the second tactic of coercive control, which is isolation,’ he continued, ‘Once face-to-face with Harvey, some of the accusers describe a marked change in his voice, sudden advancements into their personal space, and an overall shift in the focus of the meeting. One describes feeling as though she was on a date that she didn’t agree to. All of these alleged behaviors are elements of control, the third tactic of coercive control.’
Click through to see the men accused of sexual harassment and assault during the #MeToo movement:
And for those uneducated people asking why Thompson didn’t run from Harvey if she felt threatened? ‘Victims of coercive control are often more focused on managing the abuser’s reactions and avoiding the negative repercussions than seeking safety and refuge in a highly threatening situation,’ says Matt.
Essentially, while some can misunderstand this video, it is actually a useful tool to show just how men with power use coercive control to intimidate women. It’s not just the common notion many women feel to be polite, not make a scene, to placate a man in order to stay safe, it’s the fact that Thompson felt she had to volley back with Weinstein that ultimately shows how hard it is for women in the workplace.
So, if you still don’t understand how coercive control can lead to rape, watch the video and you might get a clue.