Harvey Weinstein's master class on power and abuse

Actress: Career suffered for rejecting Weinstein
Actress: Career suffered for rejecting Weinstein

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  • Alexandra King: Famous or unknown, many woman have had to confront their own Harvey Weinstein
  • Whether the ultimate goal is sex or career advancement or money, the language of his power play is a universal routine, she writes

Alexandra King is a digital producer for social TV at CNN. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers.

(CNN)Hotel rooms. Private meetings. Requests for massages or to watch him shower.

It's a script familiar to many women. And not just the ones on the receiving end of Harvey Weinstein's particularly odious brand of the Hollywood treatment.
Alexandra King
But what's striking, other than just how long Weinstein seems to have gotten away with his myriad alleged crimes, are the similarities in the harrowing stories made by his multiple accusers, who now include such famous actresses as Gwyneth Paltrow, Heather Graham and Angelina Jolie.
    As more and more women share their stories about Weinstein, and I believe there will be more, I hope that the chorus of their collective voices will highlight the importance of identifying and understanding the insidious language of abuse that is so often used to exploit, undermine and silence women.
    Have the accounts of Harvey Weinstein's accusers reminded you of an experience you have had personally? If you feel comfortable sharing your story you can contact us via text/whatsapp at +1-347-322-0415.
    His accusers' accounts are a sad litany of the same appalling scenes with Weinstein. But no single piece of this still-unfolding tale is more devastating than a 2015 audio recording obtained by a Filipina-Italian model named Ambra Battilana-Gutierrez during a New York Police Department sting operation. She was wearing a wire after reporting Weinstein to the police for groping her during a business meeting. The goal was to get him to confess to it. If you haven't yet listened to it, I urge you to do so.
    But you'll first want to do two things: Brace yourself, because it's a chilling exchange, and read the full written transcript of their encounter, which merits study in and of itself. It reads like a script of how a predator manipulates his prey.
    His language lays bare his tactics. Note the practiced way in which Weinstein veers from making demands to pleading. One moment, he's issuing commands: "You must come here now," "Get in here," "Go to the bathroom." The next minute, he's begging.
    In the course of a conversation that lasts precisely one minute and 53 seconds, Weinstein says the word "please" an extraordinary 12 times. His persistence is remarkable, and his use of contrasting messages demonstrates his mastery of manipulation, a tactic that ensured women on the receiving end of his interwoven commands and pleas would feel exhausted and confused.
    Psychologists John Gottman and Neil Jacobsen, authors of "When Men Batter Women" (first published in 1998 and reissued in 2007), conducted extensive research into emotional abuse and domestic violence, in the process creating a 27-question survey designed to help doctors establish whether patients were suffering from systematic abuse at the hands of a partner.
    The four factors that determine emotional violence, Gottman and Jacobson concluded, were isolation, degradation, sexual abuse, and property damage. Every single one of these factors can be seen, clear as day, in Weinstein's words to Gutierrez. He attempts to physically isolate her in his room. He degrades her by demanding she go to the bathroom, as if she were a naughty child.
    He admits to sexually abusing her by touching her breast the night before. He makes sure she knows how powerful and famous he is compared to her, implying that he has the power to make or break her career -- to damage not just her property, but her identity as well.
    Multiple accusers have recounted how Weinstein lured them to his hotel room by saying he wanted to talk about scripts. The actress Heather Graham has described to Variety how he met with her while sitting with a number of scripts stacked on his table, like a king commanding from his throne room. Yet, unlike his unwitting targets, Weinstein already had his lines memorized. The transcript of Weinstein's performance with Gutierrez, the grim role he allegedly played over and over again to meet, harass and ultimately silence his victims, is essentially a master class in the semantics of power play and abuse.
    Humiliation was also a key part of Weinstein's arsenal. He twice tells Gutierrez that she is "embarrassing" him. Notably, he also finds ways to repeatedly imply that the young model's discomfort is her fault. "You're making a big scene here," he says at one point. Remember that he often allegedly targeted women at the beginning of their careers, capitalizing on his power and their vulnerability and ambition.
    Weinstein also peppers his speech with occasional hints at affection. There's the cloying addition of "Honey," the faux chivalry of "Please sit," and, perhaps most disconcertingly, the moment that he "Swears on his children" that he's "Not gonna do anything."
    It's a sinister tactic. He's got kids! The family man. The dad.
    It's worth remembering here that the model Cara Delevigne, who described alleged harassment and assault by Weinstein in an Instagram post on Wednesday, said she had kept silent about her experience with him because "she didn't want to hurt his family."

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    Famous or unknown, many woman have known their own Harvey Weinstein. Whether the ultimate goal is sex or career advancement or money, the language of his power play is a universal routine, one that every woman will recognize and must try to negotiate. It happens behind closed doors. It happens out in the open. In boardrooms. On dates. Everyday, Weinstein's tactics are employed by men who believe that their power and privilege will always protect them.
    That's why I'm grateful for that recording, and for Ambra Battilana Gutierrez's considerable bravery in making it happen. Because, in all its horror, we're all witnesses now, whether we like it or not.
    It took twenty years for Weinstein's behavior to come to light. But your routine's over, Harvey. It's time to rewrite the script.