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Weinstein portrayed by prosecutors as predator as rape trial opens

Harvey Weinstein leaves court during his rape trial (AP/Richard Drew)
Harvey Weinstein leaves court during his rape trial (AP/Richard Drew)

Harvey Weinstein has been painted as a sexual predator by prosecutors as he goes on trial in a landmark moment for the #MeToo movement.

Prosecutor Meghan Hast told the jury of seven men and five women that the former studio boss was “not just a titan in Hollywood — he was a rapist”.

She said Weinstein screamed at one victim that she “owed” him sex, used injections to induce an erection before an assault and pushed his way into the home of another woman and assaulted her.

“It is for his complete lack of empathy that he must be held accountable,” Ms Hast said.

Sexual Misconduct Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein, centre, accompanied by attorney Arthur Aidala, right, arrives at court (Richard Drew/AP)

Weinstein’s lawyer Damon Cheronis countered by laying out plans to use friendly-sounding emails, calendar entries and other evidence to call the accusers’ accounts of being attacked into question.

The opening of the rape trial more than two years after a barrage of allegations against Weinstein gave rise to #MeToo was seen by activists as a milestone in the global reckoning over sexual misconduct by powerful men.

Weinstein’s lawyers, though, have portrayed the case as the result of a climate of accusation run amok.

Weinstein, 67, said little as he arrived at court. Asked whether he believed he would have a fair trial, he said yes: “I have good lawyers.”

Guided by aides and lawyers, he was not using the walker he has leaned on lately after a summer car crash and subsequent back surgery. He said he was feeling better.

The once-powerful and feared executive who brought to the screen such Oscar-winning movies as Pulp Fiction, The King’s Speech, Shakespeare In Love and Chicago has insisted any sexual encounters were consensual. He could get life in prison if convicted.

Sexual Misconduct Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein, centre, denies the charges (Richard Drew/AP)

Though scores of women have accused Weinstein of sexually harassing or assaulting them over the years, the New York charges are limited to two allegations: that Weinstein raped an aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performed oral sex on another woman in his apartment in 2006.

The rape accuser found a needle in the hotel room bathroom after the alleged assault and realised Weinstein had injected himself to get an erection, Ms Hast said.

Another time, after the woman told him she had a new boyfriend, Weinstein dragged her into a bedroom, “all the while screaming at her that he owed her one more time,” Ms Hast said. “He ripped her jeans off so forcefully that it left scratch marks.”

The prosecutor said Weinstein later told the woman, “I just want to apologise for what happened earlier. I just find you so attractive, I couldn’t resist you”.

In addition to the two women he is charged with attacking, prosecutors plan to call to the stand four other accusers – including actress Annabella Sciorra – in a bid to portray Weinstein as a monster who lured women with offers of career help, then forced himself on them.

Files arrive at the rape trial
Files arrive at the rape trial (AP/Richard Drew)

“They will each describe their fear, their shame and their humiliation – the struggle each went through to push their trauma down and show a brave face to the world,” Ms Hast said.

Ms Hast detailed allegations that Weinstein sexually assaulted Ms Sciorra around 1993 after giving the Sopranos actress a ride home to her Manhattan apartment and forcing his way inside.

“She told him to get out. She told him no. But Harvey Weinstein was undeterred,” Ms Hast said.

She said the actress eventually stopped fighting Weinstein, “hoping it would end” and was left “emotionally and physically destroyed, passed out on the floor”.

Weinstein’s lawyers made clear they intend to go on the offensive.

Mr Cheronis said the 2013 rape accuser sent Weinstein a request that year asking for “time privately” with him and another message letting him know, “I got a new number. I just wanted you to have it. … Always good to hear your voice”.

Mr Cherinos said: “These aren’t our words. They’re hers. It is not a relationship based on fear, you are going to see that.”

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