A jury deliberates this week in the first criminal case brought against Harvey Weinstein on charges of sexual assault and rape. But in 2015, five years before Weinstein was hauled into State Supreme Court in Manhattan, there was Ambra Battilana Gutierrez.
The Italian-Filipina model was only 22 when she went to a Tribeca precinct with a startling story. She told police that earlier that day, in a business meeting, Weinstein had groped her breasts and put his hand up her skirt. The police asked her to wear a wire when she met with Weinstein again, and the next day she captured him admitting that he had touched her breasts. “Oh, please. I’m sorry,” he said, badgering her to go into his hotel room. “I won’t do it again … I will never do another thing to you. Five minutes. Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.” Battilana Gutierrez was certain the admission would be the smoking gun to bring Weinstein to justice, but she soon realized she had been naïve. Under pressure from Weinstein’s powerful lawyers and his scorched-earth publicity campaign against Battilana Gutierrez, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance declined to charge Weinstein. She eventually signed a million-dollar nondisclosure agreement with Weinstein, citing fears for her family. But she held on to what she called her “escape plan” — a copy of the Weinstein recordings.
Two years later, Battilana Gutierrez took matters into her own hands, authorizing The New Yorker to publish part of them in 2017. “I mostly thought of other women that could’ve been put in the middle of this,” she said in an interview at New York’s offices last week, as Weinstein’s trial came to a close. “I felt that, as I had been alone, I wanted to be that person that would’ve been there for others.” This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Why do you think you were the first person, as far as we know, to go to the police about Harvey Weinstein?
Being from another country — I’m Italian — made me less understanding of his level of power. Also, I really don’t like to be touched, and knowing that someone invaded my space in that way, it was too much for me. And I just believed in the system.
Do you now feel like you were naïve to believe in it?
Yeah, naïve in the moment. I knew the moment I got to the police station that Weinstein was dangerous. When I said his name and that he’d assaulted me, the guy at the glass door answered with, “Again?” That gave me strength; that made me just want to do something about it.
The Special Victims unit was really on my side. After I wore a wire, they were saying, “Ambra, you did it. You put him in jail. He’s going to go to jail.” That night I went home — and, of course, I was escorted and everything because I was paranoid and all — but I was kind of feeling, Okay, it’s done. But Martha Bashford [former head of the Sex Crimes unit, who resigned earlier this month] interrogated me like I was the criminal, with questions like, “Have you ever been a prostitute?” Or, “Have you ever gotten gifts?” Or, “Have you ever asked for a movie role?” And I’m like, “Did you hear the recordings?” The recordings made it clear that this person was absolutely pushing for me to go in that room and to assault me, pushing the fact that my career was going to be ruined and he’s a famous person and that I’m nothing. So, what wasn’t clear? Even if I was a prostitute [which I was not], every person has the right to not do things with people that they don’t want to. I remember the moment I left that room after that interrogation, I thought, This is not going right.
Around that time, negative stories about your past started showing up in the gossip columns.
They were saying I was a liar and putting my bikini photos on the front page of a lot of magazines and newspapers. It was kind of easy for Weinstein, with the type of people that he knows and power to put me down. The public opinion at first was with me and then, after a little bit, it was against me.
Did people start treating you differently?
Oh yeah. I had nobody talking to me anymore, people not letting me in restaurants or clubs or places in New York. I didn’t work for two years. I’m building my career back from zero now, because before it was negative 100. I work with my image, so ruining my reputation was destroying me completely.
Also, posing in lingerie is not a crime.
Exactly. That’s my job. A friend of mine said once, “Maybe you see a beautiful car in the street. It doesn’t mean that you have the right to open the door and take it without permission.”
How did you feel when the DA announced that they weren’t going to prosecute Weinstein for your complaint?
Yeah, that was a … not funny, but how can I say silly way to learn that they were not prosecuting him: from the front page of a newspaper.
The DA’s office didn’t call you?
No. I thought already that everything was falling apart and they would not come to help me. I understood that. It’s like, I didn’t speak much English, but I could understand what was happening, and it was all against me.
You signed a nondisclosure agreement with Weinstein’s lawyers. How did you make that decision?
My brother called me and then started to say, “Oh, Ambra. They’re asking about you,” and I’m like, “What do you mean? Who? Who is asking about me?” He’s like, “Someone came into my work and is asking about you. He asked about you.” And I’m like, “Who is this? It’s a journalist? Did they leave a business card or something? His name?” And he’s like, “No, no. He didn’t do it. He didn’t leave his name or something. He just asked about you — if I was your brother.” And I’m like, “Just go home right now. Go home.” And my blood just turned super cold. I was shaking and everything. I’m like, “Okay, that’s it.” That’s when I decided to sign this agreement.
How did you hang on to those secret recordings of Weinstein?
They said that I had to give my phone, my computer, iPad, passwords of my email. They had to clean up everything from my devices. But the day that I made those recordings, I sent the copy to five different emails. And I remember telling my lawyer that I forgot one of the passwords because it was Italian, a very old account that I had. I went to my friend’s home, and I remember getting into her computer and logging into that email and then downloading those recordings in a way that they wouldn’t see that I opened the email.
What did you think you might do with the recordings?
I had to get those out. It’s like, that’s my life; that was the key to getting my life back. Being believed, getting my name back to who I was or I am right now. That I wasn’t lying. I was right. I told the truth.
I remember the day that I signed the NDA, I was at the office in some building in midtown, and there was the lawyer for Harvey, very nervous talking to me, saying, “Thank you so much for being here. We’re so glad to have you, and I’m so sorry.” And this table was in front of me. I’m watching him, the eyes, and I kept telling him, “I’m going to sign this, but if I hear of him hurting anyone else, I would not care about [the paper] I signed.” I didn’t even really understand what I was signing.
That was the spring of 2015. What was life like for you after that?
I got into a very deep depression. I gained like 30 pounds in just a few months. I knew what the truth was, and that nobody would listen, and I didn’t know how to get those recordings out. I didn’t know who to trust.
Did you regret reporting Weinstein to the police?
Oh, not at all. No. I would’ve done it a million times. Even going through the depression, going through heartbreaks because people were not wanting to date me. Like we would hang out for months and then in the moment, I would be like, “So, what’s going on?” And replying like, “Oh, but you know, you might hurt my reputation.”
Have any of those people come crawling back?
Oh, everyone. So yeah, I mean, I really understood who loves me and who doesn’t, and that’s a blessing.
Did you imagine the kind of reaction that all of the stories about Harvey Weinstein got? I mean, it changed the world.
Even now, it just makes me very emotional. Because I know what it means feeling like you’re in a cage and having the possibility to talk and understand that someone would be on your side. That day that those recordings came out publicly, I think I was so happy that I smiled like the whole day. It was so weird. It was like I had a baby or something.
And, of course, he was later arrested and has been put on trial in New York. Does it concern you that the same office that let you down is bringing the case against him?
I know, but how can you just not do what is right if everyone is watching you? So, I’m here waiting, very anxious. I really hope they get justice and they see this person getting what he deserves, because he didn’t do it once. He did it too many times. Of course, I didn’t go through what happened to them. It just makes my heart cry.
Something else that’s different in the trial from your experience is that these women say that they were violated, but also that they had consensual contact with Weinstein. That’s become a big part of his defense. What do you make of it?
I don’t know if you heard it from the recordings, but he’s very good at manipulating people. If you already break someone enough to make them so powerless and weak and tell them, “You’re not going to do anything in your life if you don’t do what I say,” you could really just believe that you have no other choice … I know what it meant for me to lose everything.
If the jury rules not to convict Weinstein, how will you feel?
I still have hope for the L.A. case. And if not, people know now what’s going on, and Ronan Farrow’s still writing about it, and you guys are writing about it, and so many others wrote about it. There’s more women having their strength back, the support that before that we didn’t have. It’s something that at least we achieved, and it’s a lot already.
You seem like you’re in a very centered place.
Yeah, I’m in the center. Let’s see now where it leads me.
Update, February 24: Harvey Weinstein’s verdict has been announced.