The following chain of events led to Chiu and her colleague Zelda Perkins being pressured into signing an onerous Non-Disclosure Agreement, and taking a £125,000 settlement, in return for their silence.
The NDA was so strict it made it nearly impossible for Chiu to tell a lawyer, a psychologist, or her family about the sexual assault – which Weinstein completely denies. She was not allowed to keep a copy of the document.
“I was pretty terrified 20 years ago,” she says now.
“It took a while to get to a place emotionally where I was ready. That mattered to me more than legal repercussions and public scrutiny.”
The secret was so deeply hidden that the first Chiu’s Sydney-born husband Andrew knew about it, was in 2017, when New York Times journalist Jodi Kantor turned up on the couple’s driveway in California. By then Andrew and Rowena had been married for a decade.
Chiu knew the gig was up, but it would still be another two years until she was ready to tell her
story publicly, for the book She Said, which Kantor and her colleague Meghan Twohey wrote about their Pulitzer-award winning investigation into Weinstein’s alleged sexual predation.
They hinted they knew where I lived and I feared they would have me followed. That was more scary than any court.
Rowena Chiu on threats made against her by Harvey Weinstein’s team
Now, with the support of her family (husband Andrew has said he is “in awe” of his wife’s bravery), the mother-of-four is slowly telling her own story.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age are the first Australian outlets she has spoken to, and every time she talks, she risks being sued, a threat Weinstein has already made through his lawyer, Donna Rotunno.
“The fear is very strong. We are technically still under the NDA. It is eternal, there is no date we are released from our obligations,” she says.
“They hinted they knew where I lived and I feared they would have me followed. That was more scary than any court. It is all part of a system that conspires to keep women silent.”
The #metoo movement has been criticised for focusing on white, privileged women, and that focus
was one of the reasons Chiu chose to speak out.
As an Asian woman (she is British-born Chinese), she feels a responsibility to talk about something which is particularly taboo in her culture.
“In overseas Chinese society, rape and sexual assault are hard to talk about,” she says.
“You conform to this ‘model minority’ stereotype: be deferential, don’t make waves, don’t make a fuss, work hard.”
Weinstein himself “made explicit racist comments”, commenting on how he’d never had a Chinese girl, Chiu recounts.
“Harvey Weinstein told me he liked Chinese girls. He liked them because they were discreet, he said — because they knew how to keep a secret,” Chiu wrote in an opinion piece published in The New York Times in October.
Chiu, who has a literature degree from Oxford, describes eloquently the mixture of enablement and grooming that allowed Weinstein to allegedly serially rape and assault women.
“We all knew he was difficult. Many people believed he was unfaithful to his wife,” she tells the Herald and The Age.
“He wasn’t a good guy, but few believed he was a serial rapist.”
Weinstein worked under the cover of a powerful “creative genius”-type, known for his nasty temper and idiosyncratic work habits. He kept long hours, and often worked out of hotel rooms. The context made his alleged abuse easier.
“Sometimes reporters say: ‘She was in the hotel room late at night’ and it sounds salacious, like you were there for a drink,” Chiu says.
“But it was the office. He worked until 2am. I was expected to be in the hotel room late at night.”
Chiu says Weinstein would sometimes be naked while they worked. He segued “with sinister logic”
between work and personal topics. He would promise to help the young graduate’s career if she did
things he wanted, like massage him.
“It was a barter, a trade. He wasn’t afraid of the stick, as well as the carrot. He would say you would never work again. He cajoled.”
Chiu was warned she would have to handle Weinstein “robustly”.
“It was talked about among female assistants: ‘He is going to be in the nude’. But I think there is a difference between talking about your male boss as a bit of a pest, and thinking he is a serial rapist who would hold you to a bed or to a wall,” she says.
“You can normalise quite extreme behaviour to an extent, but you think you will escape.”
Chiu did escape being raped, but the toll of the trauma, which was compounded by the secrecy of the NDA, was huge. Twice she has tried to take her own life. After leaving Miramax, no one would hire her, because of the murky nature of her departure.
She did a brief stint back at the company, far from Weinstein, but where he could still keep an eye on her.
Eventually Chiu left the film industry, and she now works in international development at the
World Bank. She will be watching with interest in January, when Weinstein fights rape and sexual assault charges at a Manhattan trial, but says she can’t comment on it. For now.
Jacqueline Maley is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. In 2017 she won the Peter Ruehl Award for Outstanding Columnist at the Kennedy Awards