S.W.A.T. Actress Lina Esco Talks Human Campaign and Opens Up about Alleged Sexual Harassment by Harvey Weinstein
Actress Lina Esco is opening up to PEOPLE about allegedly being sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein.
The 32-year-old S.W.A.T. actress — who directed the 2014 film Free the Nipple — first revealed her experience to the Washington Post on Oct. 14. She recounted meeting Weinstein around 2010 through a mutual friend and later dining with him at a hotel. She claimed he came on to her, saying “I think we should see a movie in the theater, like back in the day, and we should kiss.”
Though she brushed Weinstein off, Esco claimed he continued to press the subject — telling her, “It’s just a kiss.” The message came with the insinuation that “everything would be easier for [Esco] if [she] went along,” she claimed.
Thinking it was an isolated incident, Esco — who would go on to give the disgraced mogul a “very special thanks” credit in Free the Nipple after he helped find her an editor on the film – says she was afraid until recently to go public about her experience.
“He didn’t go past that. He went as far as, ‘We should kiss and we should do this and if we don’t do that things are going to be pretty much not easy for you in the business,’ ” Esco recalled in an interview with PEOPLE Now on Thursday.
“We were also in a time where social media and the news weren’t printing these stories and weren’t talking about these stories. If they’re not there, it’s not an environment for everyone to speak of because everyone is saying, ‘Shut your mouth, you don’t want to lose your job.’ So we’re all kind of afraid to say anything,” she added.
“Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein,” a spokesperson for the movie mogul said in a statement. “Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”
Esco told PEOPLE her encounter with Weinstein wasn’t the first experience she had with sexual harassment, and that empowered her to be able to walk away from Weinstein.
“Because I’ve gone through the things I’ve gone through, I left home so young, I was able to handle that and walk away and put him in his place. But a lot of women out there cannot do that. They just couldn’t be able to get out of the situation because they were so young. And it’s just unfair,” Esco said.
She continued: “I’ve been in that situation. I’ve been 17, 16 years old and been in a situation where somebody’s inappropriate and I don’t know what to say. No one schooled me through that. You’re not prepared for that. So I just stayed quiet. I’ve been in situations where I was taken advantage at a young age. I don’t want to go into it but I said nothing. I blamed myself for it.”
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Esco is pushing for gender equality with her launch of the Human Campaign, which seeks to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States.
“We have finally a momentum again with woman after the women’s march. There’s all these momentums happening but if we don’t do something with it, it’s just going to go away. It’s just going to be a trend. Same thing with all these women coming out against Harvey. We have to do something with this. We have to hold these people accountable for what they’re doing and we need to continue speaking up and taking risks,” she said.
“Taking risks might mean that we might lose our jobs. But it’s the bigger picture. What we’re doing is creating a ripple effect for other men and women to come out and speak about what’s happening,” Esco said. “And this is the same thing with women’s rights. If we don’t capitalize on this and we keep looking at it as just a trend or something to tweet about or Instagram about, that’s not enough. You need to be active. And that’s what I’m saying — the Equal Rights Amendment, the Human Campaign and what we’re doing. This is not my thing, this is everyone’s thing. It’s important to come together. You can be helping women here and helping women there. But if we’re not in the Constitution, there’s nothing more important than that. Nothing.”
Weinstein, 65, is embroiled in an ongoing sexual harassment and abuse scandal, with actresses including Cara Delevingne, Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie speaking out against Weinstein’s alleged behavior.
In a bombshell New York Times report earlier this month, eight women accused him of acting inappropriately. The paper also reported that Weinstein reached private settlements with eight women, including actress Rose McGowan.
More than 40 women have since spoken out against the producer in followup accounts in the New York Times, the New Yorker and elsewhere — with allegations including rape, forced oral sex, groping and harassment.
Weinstein has since been fired from his powerhouse studio, the Weinstein Company, and his wife, Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman, has announced she’s leaving him.