Jennifer Siebel Newsom did not have to testify against Harvey Weinstein.
Siebel Newsom took the stand in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom where Weinstein faces charges of multiple sex crimes only a few minutes before court stopped for a lunch break. But in those few minutes, her pain and humiliation seeped out of a wound still open, 17 years after it was inflicted.
Asked if she could identify Weinstein, she began to cry. Later in the day, in detail heartbreaking, explicit and profound in its ugliness, she described Weinstein raping her in a Los Angeles hotel room in 2005. It was an encounter “like an out-of-body experience,” she said, that left her frozen and “trying to process what happened.”
For those of you whipping out your phones to email me that she’s acting, that she kept in touch with her accused rapist, that she did this or that which proves her a willing participant in her own victimization — please don’t bother. I’ve heard it in literally every sexual assault case I have ever covered. In the many years I’ve done this, I’ve never come across a single instance in which someone wasn’t willing to argue, “She asked for it.”
No one asks to be raped, and honestly, I shouldn’t need to say that. But every victim who testifies in a court of law is forced to relive their trauma, and to have the rest of us pick apart their decisions and motivations like carrion on roadkill — a sickening but predictable price for justice.
That secondary assault started before Siebel Newsom raised her hand and swore to tell the truth. In the opening days of the trial, Weinstein’s lawyer Mark Werksman described her as “just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.”
Werksman went on to describe all the women testifying against Weinstein as having to “lie to themselves … to make what they did consensually back then seem like it was forced upon them.”
Which makes Siebel Newsom’s testimony all the more brave, and all the more significant, not just for this trial, but for every woman who has been assaulted. Siebel Newsom could have dodged this, refused to enter that courthouse. The trial would have gone on without her, and she could have remained a quiet footnote in this Greek tragedy of hubris and corrupted power.
Instead, she choose not only to face Weinstein but to face us all.
As the spouse of the governor of the largest and most controversial state in the nation, everything she testifies to will become part of a very public legacy that is going to follow her and Newsom into future political campaigns, especially as he seeks an ever-larger national profile. Regardless of what else she has accomplished or will accomplish, there will be few stories about her that don’t mention this moment, whatever the final outcome may be. As a mom, she will someday likely be asked by her children to explain what all this meant, and didn’t.
She will never escape the truths she tells on that stand. And no matter how strong she is, it’s going to hurt.
I’ve seen the burden that telling a sexual assault story publicly takes on women who aren’t in the spotlight, having the details be part of every Google search of your name. Imagine that amplified by fame, and every person you meet knowing intimate details of your worst moment.