Harvey Weinstein abused his status as a Hollywood power broker to lure young women into violent sexual attacks, a New York prosecutor told jurors yesterday as the former film producer's rape trial got under way.
"The man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood, he was a rapist," Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast said in her opening statement in a Manhattan courtroom.
She characterised Weinstein (67) as a "seasoned predator" and said his female accusers were "no match" for him.
Weinstein is accused of assaulting two women. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault.
The trial is a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement, in which women have gone public with allegations against powerful men in business and politics.
Ms Hast's opening remarks described Weinstein's repeated promises to open doors in Hollywood for young women, then luring them alone to hotel rooms or private apartments where he would attack them. One female juror grimaced at the graphic descriptions.
Late in the evening on July 10, 2006, Weinstein brought former production assistant Mimi Haleyi to his apartment.
He had met her at the Cannes Film Festival and promised work opportunities.
A friendly conversation ended abruptly and Weinstein attacked her and forcibly performed oral sex on her, yanking out her tampon, according to Ms Hast.
A large flat-screen TV in the court flashed images of victims or pictures meant to convey Weinstein's power, including one of him with former president Bill Clinton.
Weinstein is charged with assaulting Ms Haleyi and raping a woman in 2013 who Ms Hast identified as Jessica Mann.
Prosecutors plan to call other women to testify to show a pattern of predatory behaviour.
A similar legal strategy helped Pennsylvania prosecutors convict comedian Bill Cosby in 2018 of sexually assaulting a Temple University employee.
Ms Hast also cautioned jurors that rape isn't a "back alley" attack at the hands of a stranger. She promised to bring in an expert to explain that victims are often assaulted by someone they know and often do not report the crime. Victims even "reach back out to their attacker", she said.
Her comments are likely to foreshadow the defence strategy to portray the victims' continued relations with Weinstein as inconsistent with someone who was violently assaulted.
One of Weinstein's lawyers, Damon Cheronis, said on Tuesday he intended to tell jurors in his opening statement that Weinstein's accusers sent him "dozens of loving emails".
Legal experts said lawyers for Weinstein could try to show that the accusers engaged in consensual sexual activity.
Before yesterday's proceedings got under way, Weinstein exited a white sports utility vehicle with help from two members of his team, one carrying the walker that Weinstein has used for recent court appearances as he recovers from back surgery.
During the prosecution's opening statements, Weinstein sat at the defence table, occasionally sipping water from a clear plastic cup.
Since 2017, more than 80 women, including many famous actresses, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.
Weinstein, who also faces additional charges in California, has denied the allegations and said any sexual encounters were consensual.