Updated on Nov. 11 at 5 p.m.
Amber Rollo is a stand-up comedian, writer, actor and one of the people who confronted Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein at a variety show in New York City on Oct. 23. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to rape and sexual assault charges and is scheduled to stand trial in January. He just reached a tentative $25 million settlement with more than 30 actresses and former employees who have filed civil suits against him. The deal would not require the Hollywood producer to admit wrongdoing or pay anything to his accusers himself.
I recently watched ABC’s “Nightline” interview with Donna Rotunno, Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer. As I watched, my blood boiled at the thought of Weinstein’s victims viewing this segment and feeling alone. Thankfully, the next day, I saw that 21 women who came forward to report his sexual misconduct had banded together to support each other. I felt so full of pride and love for them. As survivors, the system is stacked against us. Most sexual assault perpetrators do not go to jail because of a system inundated with victim blaming, shaming and silencing, all of which Weinstein’s lawyer used in his defense. We are fighting an uphill battle. But for the first time in a long time, I felt optimistic, because I didn’t feel alone.
A few weeks ago, I gained some notoriety for confronting Harvey Weinstein at a variety show in Manhattan and then posting about the encounter online. I am a survivor. I was thrown into shock and panic when I saw Weinstein, the anti-symbol of the #MeToo movement, in that club. My body was flooded with adrenaline, fear and an indescribable need to protect the room full of young artists, including my friend, Kelly Bachman, who was performing in the show.
In the aftermath, people thanked me, told me how brave I was. Those messages are very sweet and I do appreciate them, but honestly I couldn’t have helped it if I tried. I agree: It would have been very brave if I had thought about the consequences of what I was doing before I did it. But I didn’t think; it was a reflex. I had an instinctual need to protect the other people in that room by calling attention to the dangerous man there.
It reminded me of an incident six years ago, when I was in New York’s Penn Station with my sister, Gina, and my niece, Logan. We were standing in line, waiting to get MetroCards, when I heard a man screaming to my left. I wasn’t really listening — there is often indiscriminate screaming in Penn Station, and it’s part of the charm — until I realized the screaming was directed at the line we were in. So I tuned in to what he was saying: “Give it back to her! Give it back to her!”
What came next all happened within 10 seconds: I looked at the man in front of me, then I looked at the woman in front of him and saw that her purse was open. I looked back at the man in front of me, and in his hand was a woman’s clutch. I snatched the clutch out of his hand. Then, I tapped the woman in front of him on the shoulder and asked if it was her wallet. Like I said, this all happened within 10 seconds. Afterwards, I was furious at myself.
He could have gotten violent; he could have had a weapon. He could have hurt me or my sister or niece and I just reacted without thinking. Ultimately, he slunk away into the crowd.
I had similar thoughts after I confronted Harvey Weinstein at his table that night. What was I thinking? I didn’t know how this man would react. He could’ve hurt me, and I acted without thinking. I looked over my shoulder the whole way home, knowing that Harvey Weinstein had hired ex-Mossad agents to track and intimidate people in the past.
I was shaken. I lost nights of sleep because it triggered my post-traumatic stress disorder, and I was trying to avoid the nightmares I knew would inevitably come. I cried so much that I had what felt like a hangover, even though I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol in more than two years. After the fears calmed down, I wondered, could he hurt my career? Then I had a new thought: I don’t care. I would rather fail completely as an entertainer than succeed by playing nice with an alleged rapist.
As soon as that thought popped into my head, I felt relief. I know where my line is: It’s not blurry, it’s very clear. I refuse to gain fame by aiding and abetting in the suffering of others. That clear line is what makes me a force to be reckoned with.
I’m going to be honest: In my everyday life, I am not great at standing up for myself. I am a habitual people pleaser. I am not confrontational and I get taken advantage of regularly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lent friends money, never asked for it back and overdrawn my accounts. For a long time, I thought this meant that I didn’t have clear lines, that I was a pushover. Now I know that is not it at all. The reason I am kind to my loved ones is the same reason I am rude to monsters. They are two sides of the same coin. My desire to protect the people I love makes me want to push monsters out of the world.
But that is too big of a job for me to do on my own, and luckily I’m not alone. The day after my tweet went viral, women at the advocacy group Time’s Up reached out to me. My first reaction was, “How can I help?” to which they explained that they were offering to help me. I was so grateful that it only made me want to help more. I realized that I am one of many, and although the current system is stacked against us, we are building our own.
They say you never know how you will react in situations like these until they happen. Well, they’ve happened to me, and between fight, flight or freeze, I fight on others’ behalf. I have learned that I am my strongest when I am helping others. It is that strength that allows me to listen with love and kindness when others tell me their stories. It is that strength that allows me to offer my help to survivors freely, knowing that whatever energy I spend will be returned to me ten-fold, because helping others is my purpose.
I want all the survivors out there to know that I will always stand with you, that I am so grateful for the strength you give me. You are not alone. I’ve got your back.