On January 9, 2018, American actors Jessica Barth and Caitlin Dulany met at Verlaine, a trendy coffee shop on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. They weren’t alone. Nine other women had also arrived, all of whom had recently accused film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. The meeting had been organized as part of an hour-long BBC Panorama documentary, Weinstein: The Inside Story, on which I worked as a producer. In Verlaine, some of the women were not far from where their alleged abuse took place.
Until a few months earlier, Barth and Dulany had felt alone and helpless, unaware that other women had suffered similar incidents and unable to find a platform through which they could safely express themselves.
But by the time the group gathered in Verlaine, more than 100 women had come forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct (Weinstein denies nonconsensual sex. His preliminary trial begins March 7). In the three months since the first allegations appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorkerby October 2017, Barth, Dulany and the other nine women had slowly begun to share their own experiences.
They arrived at the bar one by one. Some seemed worried. Behind the smiles and laughter, there was a nervousness about the âsinisterâ circumstances in which they met. But they greeted each other warmly, as if they were old friends, strengthened by the fact that they no longer felt alone.
Dulany recognized Barth and introduced herself, and soon the couple began sharing stories. Soon after, the group stumbled upon a common frustration: what if they had been informed earlier that there were other Weinstein accusers? Could they have stopped him sooner?
During the meeting, the two women agreed that they wanted to help prevent other players in the entertainment industry from finding themselves in a similar position: helpless to report an incident and unaware that others might have suffered an incident. similar misconduct. Together they decided to do something.
Barth and Dulany have spent the past year establishing Voice in action, an anonymous online reporting system, launched in October 2018. The organization’s website, which has been backed by top Hollywood lawyers and actors, allows people to log incidents of harassment and abuse sexual. Importantly, victims will be alerted by the website’s team of lawyers if others contact the same alleged perpetrator.
Since their first meeting, Dulany and Barth have been in contact with dozens of other Weinstein accusers on WhatsApp threads and groups. Dulany, 51, alleges that Weinstein sexually assaulted her at the Hotel Du Cap in Cannes in 1996. She tells me that when she started connecting with other women who had gone through similar experiences, it changed the game for her.
“It can be difficult to talk about abuse, even with our closest family and friends,” she says. âWhen I met everyone that day at the cafe, it was still raw. I had been silent about it for so long, so I wasn’t sure I could tell people about what happened. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to leave my house.
Bart agrees. “I was definitely like, ‘Why am I doing this?'” she said. “I was very nervous. It was awkward to come together under such circumstances, but I’m so glad I went because what came out of it was a real gift during a monstrous time.
Dulany adds, âI was surprised to meet everyone. It was a brilliant light, and it became an important part of our healing. Suddenly having the support of others with similar experiencesâ¦ It was transformative and that’s why we knew victim unification had to be part of what we did next.
Barth, 38, is best known for her role in the Ted film franchise. She alleges Weinstein sexually harassed her at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel in 2011, in exchange for a movie deal. “We’ve seen the statistics,” she said. âWomen don’t report sex crimes. They don’t feel there is anywhere to go and don’t think they will be believed. She adds, “That’s why we feel our platform is so necessary.”
Barth and Dulany happen to live “about four blocks from each other” and “talk every day, pretty much.” They say they want to “change the culture” that made them think they couldn’t talk about what happened to them.
“We’ve seen and experienced why people in our industry are vulnerable, and we see the solution,” Dulany says. âWe’ve worked really hard over the last year, talking to experts, making sure we’re getting it right. We don’t want to see people going through what we did, but they still are and they still don’t know where to go.
None of the Voices in Action co-founders will have access to the website submissions. The only person to see the reports will be a “trauma-trained moderator”, whose identity will be kept secret. As soon as a report is filed, the victim receives a time-stamped receipt which can be provided as a document to the court or handed over to the police. When there is correspondence between perpetrators, victims are offered free consultation with trusted lawyers and given suggestions of investigative journalists they can contact.
Barth says that in 2015 she heard Double jeopardy actor Ashley Judd gives a speech describing an incident “very similar” to his. âShe didn’t name it,â Barth says, âbut I knew right away it was Harvey. I wrote to his agent and got no response, but just realizing there was someone else there made me feel less alone. It’s the security of numbers,â she adds. “Sex offenders tend to be, as we see them, serial offenders, and that’s why it’s important for us to have a buddy component.”
Judd was then one of the first women to name Weinstein, last October, along with fellow actors Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette and other celebrities whose names have now become synonymous with the #MeToo movement.
Dulany, who is suing Weinstein in a class action lawsuit against 10 accusers, says Weinstein’s fellow accusers have been “really amazing” in supporting their work, with some donating to their GoFundMe countryside.
“We’ve all supported each other through our various endeavors.” she says. As a result, Voices in Action already has celebrity ambassadors, including Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino, who has also accused Weinstein of harassment; actor and comedian Terry Crews; and actor Harold Perrineau.
The couple believe part of the appeal of their new platform is that it is victim-driven. Since women had not been invited to participate in any of the first gatherings since Time is upthe industry support group formed by Hollywood actors in response to the Weinstein scandal, they felt they needed to create their own organization.
“A lot of organizations in Hollywood are doing good things,” Barth says, “but they’re not necessarily survivor-led, and their board members are in positions of power, which I think can deter victims from coming forward At this time, we are self-funded, but we are reaching out to everyone at the top of our industry for help – those at Time’s Up, high profile agencies and executives We believe it is their responsibility to help us financially, to keep our industry safe.
Voices in Action is really the brainchild of Barth, who when news of the allegations against Weinstein first broke, created the Twitter hashtag #WhoIsYourHarvey, to encourage people to name their alleged abusers. But after consulting with experts and lawyers, the pair agreed the individuals would initially not be put in contact with each other for legal reasons.
âIf they talk to each other, their stories can be influenced before they go to the police or a lawyer,â says Dulany. Barth adds: âConnecting victims immediately is not safe. They could be accused of collusion or making up a story. It is therefore smart and necessary to do so with confidentiality and privilege.
Alex Little, who is the pro bono lawyer for Voices in Action, says the organization uses systems to ensure the security of data transmitted. Users opting into the matching system will also need to verify their identity. Barth and Dulany hope their idea will eventually be rolled out in other industries.
“We want to best serve every victim who comes forward,” Barth says, “and if we opened it up to everyone right away, we wouldn’t have the resources to help them all.” So we start here and hope to integrate it into an application. Dulany adds, âWe hope this will become a model for other industries. We would like that.
Both women are keen to emphasize that they put no pressure on victims to go public with their experiences if they are not ready, but documenting abuse when it occurs can be important. “One of the most common things we see in sexual assault cases is that if people don’t report right away, it affects their case later,” Dulany says.
Barth continues, “So with our platform, you can report, it will go into our system and you’ll get a timestamped email acknowledgment, which we think can be a critical piece of evidence if you decide to pursue criminal charges. It allows victims to say, ‘I reported it, here’s my evidence, I just wasn’t ready to come forward publicly at the time.’ that many survivors feel.
In one open letterthe couple recently wrote, “Think of how many victims could have been saved, how many serial predations could have been avoided, and how many millions of dollars in legal fees could have been avoided if a matchmaking site had already existed.”
As Dulany tells me, “The past year has been such hard work, but it’s been worth it to be able to go all the way and watch it grow from here…It may sound corny, but we we really feel like that’s our goal now, that’s our calling.
Visit the Voices in Action GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/from-metoo-to-wetoo