The story, by now, reads as familiar. Summer Zervos got her big break appearing on a network television show. This was 2007, and Zervos was a young woman from Orange County, California, eager to take the next step in her career. But then her role on the show ended.
She reached out to the man behind the show, a man who was rich and powerful and connected. She wanted another job. She wanted advice. And he was happy to meet with her. He invited her to his office, in New York.
When she arrived, she says the man immediately kissed her on the mouth. It made her uncomfortable, but she rationalized it. Maybe this is just how he greets people, she thought. He told her she was great, she was smart, she was attractive. He said he would love to work with her more. When the meeting was over, she remembers, he kissed her on the mouth again.
Time passed. The powerful man called Zervos to say he was coming to the West Coast. They made plans to meet at the Beverly Hills Hotel and go out to dinner. When Zervos arrived, she was brought to the man’s bungalow. She says he immediately began kissing her, open-mouthed. She pulled away. He asked her to come sit next to him. She did so. He began kissing her again, and grabbed her breast. She moved across the room. He followed her, embraced her, and rubbed his crotch against her.
The details of Zervos’s legal complaint are familiar to anyone who has followed the Harvey Weinstein scandal. All the elements are there: the power imbalance. The putatively professional meetings that are actually settings for sexual assault. The older man trading on the connections he can offer, the plum jobs he controls, to pressure a younger woman into sex.
But Summer Zervos’s story isn’t about Harvey Weinstein. It’s about Donald J. Trump.
Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, first came forward with her allegations against Trump last October, and filed suit against him in New York state court in January. Trump’s legal team is trying to get the case dismissed. Zervos’s lawyers, meanwhile, have subpoenaed any documents the Trump campaign might have on Zervos and nine other women who have made accusations against Trump, as well as “any woman alleging that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately.”
Since the allegations against Weinstein became public earlier this month, many have noted the similarities with Trump: two powerful men, both repeatedly accused of using their power and fame and wealth to prey on women sexually. One big difference, though, as some of Trump’s accusers have pointed out, is that while Weinstein has been ousted from his company and denounced by former friends, Trump is president of the United States, and enjoys the continued backing of his party and political allies. This difference says a lot, not just about the mores of Washington and Hollywood but about partisanship, power, and accountability.
The allegations against Weinstein and Trump are strikingly similar
To date, Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by more than 50 women. At least 17 women have accused Trump of harassing, assaulting, or otherwise violating them. Both men have been accused of touching women against their will, of making unsolicited and sexualized comments about women’s bodies, of using their power to coerce women into sex and to protect themselves in the aftermath.
Both men have been caught on tape. In a recording published by the New Yorker, Weinstein appears to admit to groping model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, and pressures her to come to his room. In the infamous Access Hollywood tape released last October, Trump bragged that his celebrity status allowed him to touch women: “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he said. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” After the tape was released, several women, including Zervos, came forward to say that Trump had done the things he described, kissing and touching them without their consent.
Trump also boasted to Howard Stern about going backstage at the beauty pageants he owned and seeing the contestants naked. “I’m allowed to go in, because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it,” he said. “And you see these incredible looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.”
A number of former pageant contestants have said that Trump did in fact walk in on them while they were changing. “Our first introduction to him was when we were at the dress rehearsal and half naked changing into our bikinis,” Tasha Dixon, who competed in the Miss USA pageant in 2001, told CBS Los Angeles last year. “He just came strolling right in. There was no second to put a robe on or any sort of clothing or anything. Some girls were topless. Other girls were naked.”
Weinstein allegedly bragged to women about actresses with whom he’d had sex. Trump made similar claims, according to Barbara Res, who worked with Trump for about 18 years. “He used to talk about famous women calling him and wanting him, even when he was married,” she said. No one believed him, she added, “but he had that tendency to equate his greatness with his conquering of women.”
Both men also used deep relationships with the gossip press and a powerful armada of lawyers and legal threats to try to bully both alleged victims and reporters into silence. Weinstein’s litigiousness was legendary, and he allegedly silenced victims through settlements with ironclad