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Sexual assault: New allegation against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein

Judd Apatow, Brie Larson and Megan Ellison are among the few Hollywood personalities to have declared their support for the complainants.

New allegations have surfaced against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexually harassing actresses and assistants for several years. A decade ago, Weinstein allegedly trapped Fox News reporter Lauren Sivan in a restaurant hallway in New York and masturbated until he ejaculated, Huffington Post reported. Sivan, who was a news anchor at a local channel at the time, detailed the incident, adding that Weinstein called her at work the next day to tell her that he “had a great time last night”.

The producer has gone on a leave of absence from his company following a New York Times report accusing him of “decades of sexual harassment”. The report stated that Weinstein reached confidential settlements with at least eight women. Actors Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, among others, have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment in the report.

The film and television studio The Weinstein Company, which the producer co-founded with his brother Bob, confirmed that it has called for an independent investigation into the allegations after conducting an emergency board meeting. “We strongly endorse Harvey Weinstein’s already-announced decision to take an indefinite leave of absence from the Company, commencing today,” the board said in a statement on Friday. “Next steps will depend on Harvey’s therapeutic progress, the outcome of the Board’s independent investigation, and Harvey’s own personal decisions.”

Bob Weintstein, who is reportedly estranged from Harvey and is looking to wrest control of the studio, will manage the company with chief operating officer David Glasser in the interim. Three board members, including billionaire investor Dirk Ziff, have resigned in the wake of the allegations.

Although Weinstein’s legal advisor Lisa Bloom regarded Weinstein’s behavior as “gross” and illegal in an interview to ABC News, she told the Associated Press that many of the allegations did not constitute sexual harassment. “Some of the allegations which I have read are, ‘He told me I had a nice dress on.’ ‘He told me I looked cute without my glasses,’” Bloom said. “Probably he shouldn’t be saying things like that in the workplace. Does that rise to the level of sexual harassment, legally? No, it doesn’t.”

Weinstein has produced several critically and commercially successful films such as Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love and Silver Linings Playbook, and is also known to make large monetary contributions to Democratic candidates. The Democratic National Committee has reportedly regarded the allegations as “deeply troubling”, and Republican supporters have been calling out Democratic leaders such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for staying silent on the allegations.

Most of Hollywood too has been tight-lipped in the wake of the Times report. The Daily Beast reportedly reached out to dozens of prominent actors, actresses, and filmmakers, all of whom refrained from commenting on the allegations against the producer. “For as long as Hollywood has existed, the “casting couch”—wherein film executives and filmmakers prey on powerless ingénues—has been so familiar as to become hackneyed,” says a report in The Daily Beast.

Variety speculated that many prominent names would have “trouble distancing” themselves from the producer, adding that the Times report was a confirmation of rumours that have surrounded Weinstein for decades.

Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham, Megan Ellison and Brie Larson are among the prominent personalities who tweeted in support of the women who have spoken up against the producer.

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