For more than two decades, Rowena Chiu’s secret was known to only a handful of people. It was so destructive that she twice tried to take her own life, yet she never confided in her husband, her parents and certainly not her four young children.
To her friends and neighbours, the 45-year-old was no different to any other stay-at-home mother.
But four months ago, that all changed, when Rowena revealed that she was one of Harvey Weinstein’s victims; he had tried to rape her when she was a 24-year-old assistant working in his London office.
The reason for her silence? A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that she was pressured into signing after the assault – which Weinstein has always denied – the terms of which were so restrictive that she was barred from telling anyone; not members of her family, not doctors, not counsellors for the rest of her life.
The only positive – so Rowena thought – was that the NDA agreement would prevent the movie mogul from attacking other women.
Four months ago when Rowena Chiu revealed that she was one of Harvey Weinstein’s victims; he had tried to rape her when she was a 24-year-old assistant working in his London office
She and fellow assistant Zelda Perkins, who Rowena confided in after the assault, signed the NDA after coming to a reluctant financial agreement with Weinstein, having resigned from their jobs.
Realising they were unlikely to get justice through the legal process, they insisted on clauses designed to protect others. These legally obliged Weinstein to attend sex therapy for a year, to never be alone with an assistant and, if a similar type of settlement was ever made again, he would tell his employers or resign.
But as the 67-year-old Hollywood producer was convicted yesterday of rape and committing a criminal sexual act – and the list of alleged victims nudges towards three figures – it’s clear his side of the bargain was not adhered to.
‘We thought we had got him and we had helped other women. We thought we had got some measure of justice,’ Rowena told the Daily Mail.
While she was born and raised in the UK, she now lives with her husband – a product manager for Facebook – and their four children, daughters aged ten and eight and boys aged five and two, in Silicon Valley, California.
‘He [Weinstein] did not reform in any way – he just went right on violating women for two decades,’ she added. ‘We gave up our lives, our careers in film and suffered decades of trauma in silence so that these constraints could be put on him, and he didn’t even abide by them.
‘It felt like our sacrifice was for nothing, absolutely nothing. If Miramax had stuck to those clauses we could have potentially saved hundreds of women.
Rowena and fellow assistant Zelda Perkins, pictured with Weinstein in 1998, signed an NDA after coming to a reluctant financial agreement with Weinstein, having resigned from their jobs
‘They promised us that they would put constraints on him so he wasn’t as free to rape and pillage and that is the only reason we took that money. But he did rape and pillage.’
As an English literature student, Rowena had been president of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. When she landed a job working as an assistant for Hollywood ‘god’ and Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein in the summer of 1998, it seemed her dreams had come true. She was thrilled to be earning £18,000 a year working alongside Zelda Perkins, a more senior assistant also in her 20s.
‘I was completely elated,’ Rowena recalls. ‘Harvey Weinstein was considered to be the most powerful man in Hollywood.’
There were a few ‘catches’, however. Zelda warned Rowena that Weinstein could be ‘hard work’ and that he would needed to be ‘handled robustly’.
‘I was like “bring it on” which in context of what happened afterwards is really sad,’ she says.
Her first encounter with him was at a 1998 private screening of Shakespeare in Love, where Weinstein simply barked at her to ‘sit the f*** down’.
Harvey jail where he’ll be inmate No 06581138Z
Sparse: A jail cell on New York’s infamous Rikers Island
New York’s huge Rikers Island prison has such a grim reputation that it’s going to be closed.
Sadly for prisoner No 06581138Z Harvey Weinstein, that won’t happen soon enough. He will join such illustrious company as previous inmates Sid Vicious, former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and John Lennon’s killer, Mark Chapman. Its nicknames include Torture Island and – because its steel doors and concrete walls soak up the summer heat – The Oven.
With 10,000 inmates at any one time, watched over by 9,000 guards, the 413-acre island in the East River has been described as the world’s largest penal colony.
‘He was unpleasant, he was disrespectful, he was rude, it was in no way a pleasure to work for him,’ she says.
But there was also the more glamorous side; arranging meetings and flights on private jets with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon and Robert De Niro.
She found herself alone with Weinstein for the first time when she travelled with him and Zelda to the Venice Film Festival in September 1998. The office was run out of a suite at the Excelsior hotel. The assistants worked in shifts, late into the night, and Rowena was tasked with doing the ‘late shift’, finalising scripts and setting up meetings, between 10pm and 2am.
Although never explicitly warned about Weinstein’s behaviour, colleagues had joked that she should wear plenty of clothing and never sit on a couch with her boss.
To Rowena’s horror, as soon as Zelda left, Weinstein ‘got naked almost immediately’.
‘He told me: “I like Chinese girls because they are discreet – they know how to keep secrets”.
‘He was constantly asking for massages, sexual favours and oral sex. I was very scared and felt very vulnerable. I was alone in a hotel room with a very big guy wearing no clothes.’
She recalls how, on that first night, he’d flattered her as they looked at a script for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.
‘He said: “You are so smart you went to Oxford, I see you have a real love of literature, tell me what you think”.
‘He told me: “You work for me now, if you do well you can do anything you want”.’
She tried desperately to steer the conversation back to work, and it more or less worked.
The second night, however, she was not so lucky. Rowena says Weinstein stripped off again, and started rubbing her back and trying to grope her breasts.
‘It was awful. I was really scared. I was trying to move away but he’s a big guy. He held me down on the bed and told me “it will soon be over”.’
Rowena, who is 5ft 4ins and weighs just 8st 7lbs, felt powerless against the 6ft, overweight, Weinstein. ‘I felt that if I confronted him or screamed, the gloves would be off. I felt trapped. It was not only that he was my boss but he was physically much bigger than me.’
Rowena managed to wriggle free but was warned, ‘we will pick this up tomorrow’, which she interpreted as meaning she would be raped.
Harvey Weinstein pictured at his office in New York City, April 1989. While Zelda spoke out about Weinstein in 2017, she never named Rowena, who decided to break the terms of her NDA four months ago, detailing her experience in the book She Said
The next day she tearfully confided in Zelda.
Extraordinarily, her colleague, who was just 25, marched over to where Weinstein was having lunch with several A-list stars, and demanded to speak to him. ‘He got up, meek as a lamb,’ Rowena recalls, but swore nothing had happened. Back in London, Rowena and Zelda weighed up their options. They found a legal firm willing to take them on – Simons Muirhead and Burton – and resigned from their jobs at Miramax by sending a fax to New York.
‘It specifically said, “Harvey, we resign our positions due to behaviour you know full well about and we can no longer stand”.’
That night there were string of desperate voicemails left on Zelda’s answer phone by Weinstein, begging for a meeting.
But the next day he had engaged law firm Allen and Overy to draw up an NDA (the firm’s partner Mark Mansell is facing the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over his role in drafting the contract, with a hearing date due this year).
After weeks of intense negotiation, which Rowena says was conducted under duress, including one evening when they were kept at the office from 5pm to 5am, they signed on October 23, 1998.
The NDA prevented them from ever speaking about their time at Miramax or about Weinstein. They could only discuss it with a therapist if the therapist agreed to contact the law firm and agreed to also sign an NDA.
‘When you read our NDA we were buried as good as dead bodies could be buried,’ Rowena says.
She recalls Weinstein making a rambling apology – which was noted secretly by their lawyer but later denied by the movie producer, ‘but no one was saying this is wrong, these young women should be at the police station!’
Both women received a settlement of £125,000. Rowena set up a small paint-your-own ceramics café in Notting Hill.
She was struggling, suffering from depression, anxiety and flashbacks. She sought help from eight therapists, but none agreed to sign the NDA. She and Zelda broke off all contact: it was impossible to stay in touch, as they were forbidden by the NDA ever to discuss what had happened.
After two failed suicide attempts, Rowena made a life-changing decision ‘to start a new life where I’m going to try to never think about this man’. She went into management consultancy, a world where there are HR departments.
Happily her life has blossomed: she met her Australian husband Andrew and moved to the US.
While Zelda spoke out about Weinstein in 2017, she never named Rowena, who decided to break the terms of her NDA four months ago, detailing her experience in the book She Said.
Weinstein denied her claims, saying (through his lawyer) that he and Rowena had had a ‘six-month physical relationship’, which she finds outrageous, considering she worked for him for only two months. Weinstein’s lawyer threatened to sue, but nothing has come of it.
‘I really do want to have my day in court,’ Rowena says. ‘But it’s not really about doing it for myself, it’s the bigger picture. We want to change the world for young women to come. For all our daughters and granddaughters to come.’