Harvey Weinstein accuser and former aspiring actress Jessica Mann broke down in sobs and had a panic attack while on the witness stand Monday, causing the judge to dismiss the court for the day. Mann, one of the prosecution’s key witnesses, had been reading out loud a confessional letter she wrote to her then-boyfriend, explaining her “shame” in having a “controlling relationship” with the disgraced producer that was borne from her own issues with her father.
Mann, one of the prosecution’s key witnesses, first testified on Friday, sharing graphic and often emotional accusations that Weinstein violently raped her at hotels in Los Angeles and New York in 2013. Though she said she made the decision to enter into a “normal” romantic and sexual relationship with Weinstein after he first raped her, Mann said that the dynamic between the two remained “manipulative” and increasingly violent.
The letter, dated May 2014, was presented to the jury during the defense’s cross-examination on Monday, and Weinstein’s attorney Donna Rotunno asked Mann to read the message out loud.
“My secret and my fear is knowing that a part of the dynamic with Harvey would mean that you would never talk to me again,” Mann said in court, reading from the letter. “I had to work through a lot of illusion … and father issues.”
“I told you how sometimes I felt hopeless, that I should just be with an older man because I’m a lost cause,” she continued. “I accepted that my father was that older man who dated younger than me and I in turn became that kind of woman because of my failed relationships.”
The “older man” figure became Weinstein, Mann’s letter said, and she felt an encouragement to pursue her dreams in the industry that she never did from her parents.
“Harvey validated me. He always offered to help me in ways that my parents didn’t,” she said. “Harvey was my father’s age and he gave me all the validation I needed.”
Mann’s letter discussed how she made the decision to leave home because her parents were not supportive of her career, and how she took the last of her money to buy a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.
“I arrived with nothing, no home, no direction,” she wrote. “I just did it because that was a breaking point.”
She said she didn’t let Weinstein buy her anything or give her money, even when he offered.
“I didn’t have an agenda other than my own wounds playing out subconsciously,” she said.
The letter said she continued to hold on to her relationship with Weinstein because she felt a “sense of friendship,” but she said she soon realized it was “controlling” her world.
“I remember the day I realized it was controlling my world because I was sexually assaulted,” the letter said. “That story played out where I played into sexual dynamics with people to feel like I would never be taken advantage of again. When that happened I grieved deeply for myself.”
By then, Mann began uncontrollably sobbing on the witness stand and appeared to be having difficulty breathing. She was not able to regain composure after a short break, telling attorneys she was experiencing a panic attack, leading the judge to end Monday’s proceedings earlier than usual.
Earlier during the day, Rotunno continued her cross-examination from Friday and honed in on a number of friendly emails between Mann and Weinstein after the accused rapes to question why she would continue to reach out to him, share her phone number, and schedule times to meet up with him again across a span of several years.
“You stuck around the rest of 2013, the rest of 2014, the rest of 2015, and the rest of 2016 because you thought he was grotesque and you didn’t want to have sexual interactions with him?” Rotunno asked rhetorically.
“I engaged with my abuser because of what I believed in my mind and the perception of the society that I live in and … the ways he did threaten me,” Mann responded, adding later, “I felt that if at least I was perceived as not trying to run away from him, because I was denying a lot of the hurt that was happening to me, it was just another buffer.”
Rotunno, however, continued to press Mann about the job as a hairdresser that Weinstein helped her get and asked if, by placating Weinstein, Mann was herself manipulating and lying to Weinstein to benefit from his power.
“You were making him believe that you cared about him,” Rotunno said.
“I did want him to think that I was naïve and safe and not a threat,” Mann responded.
“But you’re not naïve, are you?” Rotunno asked.
“I’m observant. I’m not that smart,” Mann answered. Though Mann acknowledged that there may have been an element of manipulation and flattery to her emails, she said she did so in order to protect herself from Weinstein.
Mann’s account, alongside former production assistant Miriam Haley’s, makes up the basis of the charges against Weinstein. If found guilty of the most serious charge leveled against him – predatory sexual assault — Weinstein faces life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex.
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