Star witness in Harvey Weinstein case breaks her silence

National

A NewsNation exclusive interview with Jessica Mann

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — Jessica Mann is known by many as the woman who helped bring down Harvey Weinstein, but the former actress left the public eye after the Hollywood mogul was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2020.

During the trial, Mann spent three grueling days on the stand, breaking down at one point when it came out that she had been sexually assaulted when she was younger. Some questioned whether her “emotional collapse” would affect the trial.

But a New York jury found Weinstein guilty of raping Mann in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on another woman, Mimi Haley, in 2006. After the trial, Mann never spoke publicly.

In a statement to NewsNation, Weinstein argued, as he did in the trial, that he and Mann were close friends and had a consensual ‘five-year relationship.’ Mann said it was not consensual.

The prosecution’s key witness Jessica Mann (third from left) arrives at Manhattan criminal court to testify at the sex assault trial of Harvey Weinstein on January 31, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

These days, Mann describes herself as an average person who “just wakes up every day and tries to be happy.” Behind the scenes, she has been working to support legislation in New York which codifies informed sexual consent.

Mann sat down with NewsNation to break her silence and share her perspective of the trial which helped spark the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and misconduct. 

Rich McHugh: After the trial, the podium was yours, so to speak. Everybody in the world wanted to hear from you, and yet you chose to remain silent and have until now. Why? 

Jessica Mann: There’s so much that I went through just in the trial. It’s requiring an extraordinary amount of healing and self-care, processing, finding who I am again. And for me, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I’m now this famous victim,’ and let me run with that. Like, the thought of that appalls me. 

But now I feel like we’re at an extraordinary moment in time, and I’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes on causes that I’m super passionate about. I made a commitment in my victim impact statement to show other survivors what is possible in recovery post-trauma and how to have recovery. And so there’s some stuff that I’ve been working on that I just find, you know, I have an opportunity to highlight. One of those is the consent bill that I’m working on. And, I think it’s time.

McHugh: At the beginning of the trial, did you believe there was a chance that he would be found guilty? 

Mann: Yes, I knew it would happen. 

I had doubt. I had fear, but you have to understand, I couldn’t have faced that if I didn’t have this feeling that that’s what was going to happen. I’m not saying I knew that it was going to happen, but something inside of me said, “you can do this. It’s going to happen.”

McHugh: You spent three grueling days testifying in front of Harvey [Weinstein] and the whole courtroom — what was that like?

Mann: It’s like facing your biggest fear. It’s, it’s absolutely terrifying. It’s the most stressful thing you can ever do. You’re on the hook for everything that comes out of your mouth. You are exposing yourself. You’re so vulnerable. You’re relying on 12 people to hear your perspective and hopefully witness all of these dynamics that comes out in a courtroom and make a fair judgment.

There’s a moment that still gives me chills. When I first got on the stand, I had to identify him. So I had to stand up and look and point to him. And at that moment, his eyes were completely black, beady black, and it took my breath away. It shook me to my core. 

Harvey Weinstein arrives at the Manhattan Criminal Court, on February 24, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

McHugh: It was obviously a roller coaster of emotions for you, with ultimately vindication at the end. But what was the hardest part? 

Mann: Day two. I think people reported I looked disheveled. ‘What’s her mental state?’ ‘What’s this?’ ‘What’s that?’ I was so exhausted. I just hadn’t slept. 

You know, there’s a lot of stresses, a lot of fear. It was the toughest day and that’s the day that I also ended up breaking down. And, this was, it was that dark kind of before the dawn moment, for sure.

McHugh: Can you bring me back to that moment where it all became too much?

Mann: I was just brutally stretched in every way on that stand. And I just hit a breaking point and I went into tremendous flashbacks. And it was also at the same time, like everything that I had trapped inside of me just released. 

And it was, it was so much at once. It was overwhelming. I was on the floor just processing this, but to finally vocalize those screams, even though I was in the pain of reliving it, was something that needed to happen. That took that moment for that to happen. 

NEW YORK, NY — FEBRUARY 3: Jessica Mann exits the Manhattan criminal court after testifying against film producer Harvey Weinstein for his sexual assault trial at Manhattan criminal court on February 3, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

McHugh: At the end of the trial, you read your impact statement. Honestly reading it, it was one of the most powerful things that I’ve read. 

Mann: I always get emotional when I read my statement.

“Your honor. The day my uncontrollable screams were heard from the witness room was the day my full voice came back into my power. Those were the screams that wanted to come out while Harvey was raping me. Those were the screams of a terrified young woman, reliving experiences of horrific violence against her body. Those were the screams that will forever haunt those who witnessed me — that, your honor is what the behavior of a rape victim looks like when facing their powerfully rich and famous rapist in court.”

Mann’s Victim Impact Statement

McHugh: When the jury came back with their verdict and read their verdict, I know it was a moment that I’ll never forget. What was that moment like for you? 

Mann: I was alone. I think I went into this, having a knowing in my heart that somehow we would receive justice, but to hear it was a shock. I think I cried. I think I screamed, I think I went into shock and then I just sat with myself. Like I just couldn’t believe it, you know? 

Actors Lauren Young (L) and Jessica Mann walk out of the courthouse after movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on March 11, 2020 in New York City. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison, 20 on the first-degree criminal sexual act and three years for third-degree rape, with the sentences running consecutively. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

McHugh: This whole experience has taken up years of your life, even before the trial and then the trial. And now here we are a year after the trial. When you look back on it, what, what do you think you’ve just come through? 

Mann: I never imagined that I would even get the opportunity to see justice, but I also didn’t understand the cost of that. It is worth it in some ways, but there’s a big cost. 

McHugh: Harvey Weinstein was found guilty a year ago. How are you doing today?

Mann: I’m thriving more than I ever thought it was possible to thrive, but that still comes with me working to heal my PTSD, working to feel like a normal person again. I am working with a brain clinic. I’m working with trauma specialists. I am doing amazing things in these amazing modalities that really help trauma patients recover and thrive in their life. 

And so I’m seeing, I’m seeing that change from the person I was a year ago, the scared person at the trial who was shaking and overwhelmed and crying and just processing like a new birth, everything that happened in this new world for me, to learning how to live again. 

And it’s kind of amazing in some ways. I don’t want to minimize the trauma that I have, but I also want people to know because this was so important in my victim impact statement that my goal is to show us our human potential and what we’re capable of. 

So if I make the pathway for that, all the thousands of, millions of people that are sexual assault survivors can look at me and look at others and say, wow, that’s this new version of a victim. That’s so important to me to rewrite this concept of what we have of a victim, you know, because we are strong.

McHugh: You’ve been working tirelessly behind the scenes after the trial on the topic of consent. Tell me about that. 

Mann: This is a massive passion of mine. In the penal code right now, there’s no law that defines consent. And if you look at my trial, in Bill Cosby’s trial — for example, my trial, the jury asked the judge to define consent and all he could say was, “use your common sense.” 

That is terrifying. Whether someone’s innocent, whether someone’s guilty, whether I’m relying on a jury, a judge should be able to properly define that for everyone’s sake. So it’s something that I want to see happen, and so I’ve been working on passing this bill. 

It’s that important to me that I’ve come out of my hiding in my shell. I want to raise awareness. I want this to pass. And if this is what it takes, then I’m willing to continue to speak on behalf of this matter and to raise awareness to the importance of it for everyone’s benefit.

I have faith that people will realize the necessity of this and how it benefits society to give us a better future, the world that we want to live in. Where, where do we go post, “Me Too?” We go to a world that defines consent.

The behavior of the perpetrator, when consent is properly defined, is what will be examined in the court of law. So just because a woman wore something — or a man, whatever the gender — someone wore something or drank, or went into the hotel room, you know, that is not what’s on trial. 

What’s on trial is the malice of the perpetrator. Did he coerce, did he duress or did he have freely given knowledgeable and informed consent? And that’s what really should be at the stake of especially crimes involving sexual assault, you know. 

And consent is consent. It doesn’t matter the situation; if it’s a business agreement, if it’s a sexual situation, if it’s a medical procedure, your consent matters. So we should define it.

McHugh: What have you learned about yourself through this whole process?

Mann: I am capable of more things than I ever realized. I am brave and I found courage. It wasn’t what I thought it was. You know, I was, felt fear the whole time, but it was a destination. 

So I was able to go somewhere and go to trial and, and survive that. And, when you live through something, you just realize our human potential is so much bigger than what we realize. Like I thought it would kill me and I’m thriving and alive and moving forward with my life. 

McHugh: You thought the experience itself would kill you? Help me understand what you meant there.

Mann: I have a very real fear that Harvey wants to kill me because I did put him in jail and I had to face that fear going to trial because after someone rapes you, what’s next, especially someone whose vengeance I experienced. 

So in one respect, I’m alive that way in another, the mental strain, the emotional strain, the stress, the circus the media put me through. You can become suicidal. You can become so distressed that there are times I didn’t know that life could become as freeing and as full as, like, happiness and joy that I’m able to create today, being free and having received justice.

McHugh: Harvey Weinstein has submitted an appeal. He says he did not receive a fair trial and that his constitutional rights were violated. How do you respond to that? 

Mann: I find it funny that one, he is very focused on this juror who is a female author, because, to me, a fair and impartial juror is someone who would probably know what a predatory dynamic was, someone who would be able to assess the situation and say, “well, that’s not the situation.” 

So the fact that he is concerned with someone who’s maybe educated on a topic that was within his criminal realm is ridiculous. I almost find the situation laughable. 

Because it’s like, it’s just so typical that he’s doing this. You know what I mean? He’s looking for the loopholes, anything he can find. And at this point, it’s not a surprise.

I think that the hundred-plus voices of women who never knew each other, who never spoke, who lived in the dark and hid the shame and dealt with this trauma attest to the fact that this man is not innocent. So he’s delusional. 

McHugh: Harvey Weinstein is facing other charges here in LA, and a trial has been postponed because of COVID, but it’s on the horizon. What advice do you have for the women who will be testifying in that trial?

Mann: Well, first I’d like to acknowledge that I have even more serious charges that I could have gone to trial with him in LA, and I decided not to because I did want to give the other women an opportunity to be heard and to see justice. 

And because it was so strenuous, I didn’t think I could do it again. I would hope that those women know that behind the scenes, I am cheering for them. I’m rooting for them. I know that they’re going to be OK. I know that they can’t imagine what’s on the other side of it, but it’s going to be so rewarding. 

And they will survive. They’ll get through this too. Even when it feels like they can’t. 

McHugh: Do you have anything that you want to say to him?

Mann: You’re asking that question as if he’s a normal human being. Do I have anything to say to a predatory rapist who is convicted, whose numbers are past a hundred women? Never, ever will I ever say anything to that man again. I am finally free from him. I will never look back.

McHugh: Do you feel free of him? 

Mann: In some ways? Yeah. I know where he’s at. He’s behind bars, in prison, but until that man dies, I won’t truly be free of him.

Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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