Time’s Up is proving once again that its fight to end sexual misconduct and pay inequality goes beyond the red carpet. On Sunday, the powerful organization penned an open letter in The Cut demanding that New York governor Andrew Cuomo investigate both the district attorney’s office and New York County district attorney Cyrus Vance for failing to prosecute Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein — who has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women — in a sexual assault case from 2015.
The letter, promoted on Twitter by Ashley Judd, one of the Time’s Up movement and legal defense fund founders, was in direct response to a damning story in New York Magazine which detailed how Vance and the district attorney’s office actively sought to discredit model Ambra Battilana by means of intimidation after she filed a sexual assault report against Weinstein. In response, a former sergeant connected to the case told NY Mag that the the NYPD’s Special Victims Division hid Battilana in a hotel under a false name because they felt the need to protect her from both Weinstein and Vance’s office.
Unfortunately, their efforts to keep Battilana safe fell short after the DA’s sex crimes unit spoke to her without their consent. During this conversation, the unit allegedly tried to smear Battilana’s character and, ultimately, frame her as an “unreliable witness.”
— ashley judd (@AshleyJudd) March 19, 2018
“Reports that District Attorney Cyrus Vance could have been improperly influenced by Mr. Weinstein and/or his representatives, and that senior officials within the DA’s office may have sought to intimidate Battilana are particularly disturbing and merit investigation,” the open letter read. “Similarly, reports that the New York Police Department chose to isolate Battilana from Vance’s staff because they feared his office was actively working to discredit her story demand immediate scrutiny.”
Time’s Up also demanded that the “independent investigation” fully review any “correspondence” between Weinstein’s team and the DA’s office that may have influenced the outcome of the case.
Additionally, the initiative encouraged Governor Cuomo to examine how the DA interacts with the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit.
“We are concerned that what appears to be the negative relationship between the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Special Victims Unit of the NYPD makes it even less likely that victims who have been assaulted by rich or powerful men will be willing to come forward and that their assailants will be prosecuted and convicted,” the letter read.
The letter concluded with a call to action for Cuomo, and all other elected officials, to protect their constituents by taking sexual assault cases seriously. The Time’s Up movement is holding our elected officials accountable for their inaction and is demanding that the organizations and institutions set up to protect survivors fulfill their duties and eliminate anyone corrupting the system.
This is a significant move for the initiative, which has been criticized in the past for being all show and no action. It appears the actresses behind Time’s Up are making good on their promise to fight for every woman by calling out injustice and corruption on both the national and local levels.
Update: Harvey’s Weinstein’s attorney Ben Brafman issued the below statement to Refinery29 after publishing.
“We are stunned that NY Magazine chose to report on the claim against Harvey Weinstein by Ambra Battilana without including the fact that in a sworn Affidavit, Ambra stated in substance that her complaint against Harvey was the result of a misunderstanding and that her decision to report the incident to the Police was attributed by her to ‘bad advice’ she received. NY Magazine also failed to mention the fact that her Affidavit…was reviewed by her and her own attorneys, including her long time Italian lawyer before she signed it under oath.
Accordingly, any claim by Ambra that she failed to understand her own words is patently false.”
Danny Frost, a spokesman for the Manhattan DA’s Office, also issued a statement to Refinery29 saying that the office remains devoted to helping survivors.
“We have great admiration for Time’s Up and for the courageous women and men who have brought about a long-overdue reckoning with decades of intolerable sexual abuse,” the statement read. “Our commitment to justice in these cases is unwavering and we welcome the engagement that powerful advocates like Time’s Up have brought to this work.”
Frost also stated that the NY Mag piece “bears little resemblance to the facts” and that the Manhattan DA’s pioneering Sex Crimes Unit “has been a national leader in investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults” since the 1970s.
“The idea that our Office would shrink from the challenge of prosecuting a powerful man is belied by our daily work and unparalleled record of success on behalf of sexual assault survivors,” the statement continued. “Police and prosecutors play different roles in the justice system. Police evaluate arrests based on probable cause, whereas prosecutors must make sure they can prove to a jury that every element of a criminal statute was violated beyond a reasonable doubt – a much higher standard.”
He continued to state the Manhattan DA’s Office is “confident” it can continue to work with police “collaboratively and professionally to deliver justice to victims of crime in Manhattan.”
Frost concluded the statement by saying, “our investigation of Mr. Weinstein is active and ongoing.”
Update: Governor Andrew Cuomo has now responded to the NY Mag story.
“It is of great concern that sexual assault cases have not been pursued with full vigor by our criminal justice system. Specifically, there are questions about the handling of the 2015 sexual assault case of Ms. Ambra Battilana against Harvey Weinstein,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement to Refinery29. “The Manhattan District Attorney is currently in the midst of a separate investigation, which involves witnesses and facts from the 2015 case. The Manhattan District Attorney at this point believes this current investigation will be completed within approximately 45 days.”
Cuomo added that it’s “critical” that law enforcement and elected officials give all cases “the utmost attention,” which is why he’s instructed the Attorney General to review the case once the DA’s Office has concluded its own investigation.
“The recent revelations about sexual assault and harassment pervasive in our society are most disturbing. We are leading the way forward with the nation’s most comprehensive reform package. This behavior must end,” the statement concluded.
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