How Rowena Chiu’s Story Helped Expose Harvey Weinstein—From ‘Credible: Why We Doubt Accusers and Protect Abusers’

“The message was always the same: Who would ever believe us over the most powerful man in Hollywood?”

Rowena Chiu, former assistant to Miramax CEO Harvey Weinstein, attends an event for the film She Said on Oct. 13, 2022, in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil / Getty Images for FLC)

From the book Credible: Why We Doubt Accusers and Protect Abusers by Deborah Tuerkheimer. Copyright © 2021 by Deborah Tuerkheimer. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission.

Rowena Chiu began working for Harvey Weinstein in 1998, assisting in the London office with his European film productions. Later that year, at the Venice Film Festival, she found herself at a late-night meeting with the producer. There, she recalls, Weinstein told her “he’d never had a Chinese girl” before attempting to rape her.

Decades later, with the benefit of hindsight, Chiu says she “fell into Harvey’s trap” because of power imbalances that included race. “The idea of the Asian immigrant ‘model minority’ is a cliché,” Chiu writes, “but at least in my British Chinese family, we were afraid of standing out. … I learned the social benefits of being deferential, polite and well behaved. As with many Asian women, this meant that I was visible as a sex object, invisible as a person.” 

She describes “almost two decades of living with a secret trauma of such magnitude that I would attempt suicide twice,” and “grappling with guilt that I took the job, that I hadn’t left the room sooner, that it was somehow my fault.” She kept her secret from her therapist, from her pastor and from the man she would marry. 

Remaining silent had become integral to my identity, both as a woman and as a person of color.

Rowena Chiu

In the summer of 2017, Chiu was visited by Jodi Kantor, one of The New York Times reporters investigating Weinstein. Kantor had reason to believe Chiu had a story to tell—a story Chiu had told nearly two decades earlier to Zelda Perkins, a coworker who was herself the victim of Weinstein’s abuse. Perkins had spoken with Kantor, but wouldn’t provide the details of Chiu’s account—Perkins said these were Chiu’s to share or not. 

When Kantor first approached Chiu, she was only months away from publishing, with Megan Twohey, the bombshell Weinstein investigation—yet Chiu wouldn’t speak about what happened. After the story broke, dozens of women came forward on the record with their allegations—and still Chiu kept her secret. There were many reasons why. 

For one, back in the late 1990s, she had entered into a legal agreement with Weinstein that obligated her to stay silent in exchange for £125,000, or about $213,000. Chiu later explained that she and Perkins “had wanted to report Harvey to his superiors; instead, we were pressured into signing a nondisclosure agreement that prevented us from speaking to family and friends, and made it extremely difficult to work with a therapist or a lawyer, or to aid a criminal investigation.” 

Credible: Why We Doubt Accusers and Protect Abusers by Deborah Tuerkheimer, published in May 2021.

Although it was not what either woman wanted, there seemed to be no alternative. They had tried to report Weinstein to his superiors, but the credibility complex had moved into high gear. As Chiu recalls, “Multiple senior individuals acted to shut us down. Some outright laughed in our faces. The message was always the same: Who would ever believe us over the most powerful man in Hollywood?” 

We’re still here. … We walked through the fire, but we all came out the other side.

Zelda Perkins

After signing the nondisclosure agreement, Chiu spent nearly two decades in what she describes as “constant fear”—“fear of Harvey’s abuse, control and power; that the story would come back to haunt me; that I would inadvertently slip up on my promise to never speak of this.” 

The nondisclosure agreement was terribly damaging. Yet Chiu says the “personal constraints” on speaking out were “a lot stronger” than the legal constraints. Like many women, especially women from “model minority” families, Chiu was raised not to “make a fuss” or behave in an “unpleasant” way. She became accustomed to not calling attention to herself or disrupting the status quo. She was taught to be “nice,” even if that meant burying her own assault.

“Remaining silent had become integral to my identity, both as a woman and as a person of color,” she would later recount

I can briefly glory in the relief that I am no longer sitting on a sickening secret.

Rowena Chiu

What ultimately prompted Chiu to share her story, first with Kantor and Twohey, and then in her own words in the pages of The New York Times? She said she was inspired by the powerful testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, whose decision to “speak up” about Brett Kavanaugh in September 2018 made a lasting impression.

Several months later, Chiu had the opportunity to meet Ford at a gathering convened by Kantor and Twohey. [The gathering is described in She Said, published in 2019 by Kanor and Twohey.] Chiu shared her story with Ford, and she listened to the stories of the other women—12 in total, along with several of their lawyers. The group met at the Los Angeles home of Gwyneth Paltrow, who had also come forward with abuse allegations against Weinstein. Each of the women gathered was a central accuser in the #MeToo era, except Chiu, the one woman in the room not yet to have broken her silence. 

For Chiu, the group encounter was a momentous one. “Meeting others who’d had similar experiences created a seismic shift within me,” she explained.

Not long after the gathering in Los Angeles, she went public with her allegation, which Weinstein denied. As difficult as it was to come forward, Chiu felt at peace with the decision. “I can briefly glory in the relief that I am no longer sitting on a sickening secret,” she wrote

Months earlier, just before that pivotal gathering came to a close, several of the women took a moment to reflect on the experience of speaking out.

“We’re still here,” said Zelda Perkins, who added, “We walked through the fire, but we all came out the other side.” 

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Deborah Tuerkheimer is a professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and the author of Credible: Why We Doubt Accusers and Protect Abusers. She teaches and writes in the areas of criminal law, evidence and feminist legal theory.