In September 2002, Kaja Sokola was a 16-year-old model newly arrived in Manhattan from her native Poland. While attending an event whose guest list was curated by her agency — NEXT Model Management, one of the biggest and most successful modeling firms in the world — the 5’11” teen with a dream of becoming an actress met movie producer Harvey Weinstein. He was 50 years old at the time and at the height of his power and influence. She was living apart from her parents for the first time.
“People at the event said, ‘This is the king of Hollywood, and he can make everything happen,’” Sokola recalls. “He said, ‘If you want to be an actress, I can see you have potential and I would like to meet with you for lunch and discuss it.’ Of course, I’ve heard, ‘Do not go out for dinners. People can put all sorts of drugs in your drinks.’ But a lunch seemed safe.”
As she laid out in a 2019 lawsuit, Sokola tells Rolling Stone she gave her phone number to the Miramax mogul behind such films as Shakespeare in Love and Pulp Fiction. Three days later, she says, he called and told her that his driver would pick her up for lunch. While sitting side by side in the car, Weinstein asked Sokola her age. She told him the truth: 16. The driver dropped the two off at Weinstein’s Soho apartment. When the elevator door opened directly into Weinstein’s home, she realized that they were alone. Within minutes, Sokola says, Weinstein sexually assaulted her and then ejaculated on the floor. Terrified, she tried to bolt, but he blocked her exit and held her in place by her arms. In an effort to normalize the situation, Weinstein insisted that what just happened was commonplace for him and threw out the names of Gwyneth Paltrow and Penélope Cruz as women whose careers he’d helped. As he released his grip on her arms, Sokola says, he gave her a parting piece of advice. He told the teen that she needed to work on her stubbornness.
On a frigid February afternoon, Sokola, now 35, sits in front of a floor-to-ceiling window in her attorney’s downtown Manhattan office and recounts that day. Wearing a bright blue sweater that stands out against the bleak skyline, she fidgets nervously as she details how the trajectory of her life changed in an instant. Today marks the first time she has spoken at length to a reporter about the ordeal that unfolded two decades ago.
Since the New York Times opened the floodgates with a damning report about him in 2017 — ushering in Hollywood’s #MeToo era — more than 80 Weinstein accusers have surfaced, spanning from Oscar-winning actresses to powerless assistants. Public interest in his crimes continues, with Ken Auletta’s bestselling Weinstein biography Hollywood Ending dropping the same week in July as the trailer for She Said, a dramatization of Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s blockbuster investigation.
But Sokola’s case is unique. She is the youngest known Weinstein accuser. And her civil suit against the disgraced producer remains one of the last standing, with most post-2005 claimants having settled as part of a bankruptcy proceeding related to the collapse of Miramax amid Weinstein’s downfall. (Nearly all pre-2005 civil claims fell outside of the statute of limitations.) But in 2019, New York passed a Child Victims Act, which briefly opened a window for underaged victims of sexual violence to sue their abusers. Sokola’s attorney Doug Wigdor, who is best known for taking on Fox News by filing more than a dozen sexual harassment lawsuits against the network, seized upon the opening. (On behalf of Weinstein, his attorney Imran H. Ansari of Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins PC, states that his client “categorically and emphatically” denies Sokola’s allegations. Ansari adds that “a timeline of events, corroborated by other evidence, including witness testimony, will refute Ms. Sokola’s allegations of sexual abuse as a minor, that were statutorily required to be alleged in her complaint in order to sue Mr. Weinstein under the Child Victims Act and not be time-barred due to the passing of the statute of limitations.” A spokesperson for Weinstein also claims that he did not buy his Soho apartment, where Sokola alleges the attack took place, until 2005.)
Even more intriguing, Sokola’s suit takes direct aim at Disney, the former parent company of Miramax that has emerged from the Weinstein debacle unscathed despite footing all of Weinstein’s business expenses from 1993 to 2005. The complaint, which was filed in December 2019 in New York, states: “During the time Disney owned Miramax, Miramax paid settlements to multiple women who were victims of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuse. Based on Disney’s control of Miramax finances, Disney knew or should have known of these payments, which should have caused additional inquiry and investigation.” (Disney did not respond to a request for comment.) While nearly all of Weinstein’s accusers were of age at the time of their respective incidents, at least one other underage claimant has surfaced, echoing Sokola’s allegations. In May 2020, a Tennessee Jane Doe claimed in a civil suit that she was falsely imprisoned and raped by Weinstein when she was 17 years old.
Sokola’s suit, which also names Bob Weinstein and Miramax as defendants, notes that Disney employed and paid the salaries of many of the people who helped facilitate Weinstein’s predatory behavior. Bob Weinstein’s attorney Gary Stein says, “This suit is yet another attempt to hold Bob Weinstein responsible for an alleged sexual assault committed by Harvey Weinstein that Bob had nothing to do with. Numerous similar claims have been filed against Bob over the past several years. Each and every one of them has been dismissed by the courts.” An attorney for Miramax did not respond to a request for comment.
As Sokola relaxes and unfolds her arms, a tattoo of the word “om” peeks out from under her wool sleeve. “It was the company’s car, chauffeur, the phones, the assistants, all of that,” she says of her particular case. “[Perhaps the driver] couldn’t say exactly how old I am, but I looked more 14 than 16 at the time.” As for Disney’s complicity, she notes wryly: “Mickey Mouse stopped being the Mickey Mouse that [I loved]. I was at the age when I just grew out of watching Disney movies a few years earlier.”
Growing up in Poland, Sokola didn’t aspire to be a model. Acting was her passion. She and her friends frequented the local cinema as much as possible. But at the age of 14, her mother and sister snapped some pictures of Sokola and sent them to a modeling contest. She won and was soon whisked off to Paris and Milan to work on ad campaigns and to appear in Elle and Marie Claire. Suddenly, her face graced the covers of European fashion magazines. “It was very fast and it happened all naturally,” she says. “So my idea was that, ‘OK, people like you, and if you have the right timing, things can happen in a splash of the moment.’”
By 16, she had signed with NEXT and moved to New York, leaving behind a boyfriend, with whom she was still at the hand-holding stage.
“She was a kind of inspiration because she was super nice. She was extremely beautiful. And she was very good at school,” remembers Karolina, a friend who first met Sokola when they were 13. (She asked that Rolling Stone not use her full name.) “We were just like typical teenagers from Poland.”
But things changed quickly for Sokola. Within a month of landing in New York, she met Weinstein. (Weinstein’s attorney provided an affidavit from Helga Rose Samuelson, a former assistant to photographer Marco Glaviano, who said, “I am of the conviction that Kaja Sokola and Harvey Weinstein met in late 2005, during the time she was staying with me in Marco Glaviano’s apartment in the CitySpire building in New York City, and not in 2002, as she has now claims [sic].”)
Over the years that followed the alleged Soho apartment assault, Sokola says Weinstein dangled promises to help her career and made good on just enough to keep her on the hook. He pulled strings to have her cast on his hit reality show Project Runway. When Sokola was 20 years old, Weinstein connected her with influential fashion figure Marilyn Gauthier, founder of Marilyn Agency in Paris and New York. Sokola recalls sitting with Gauthier and two bookers while Weinstein’s voice boomed through on a speaker phone. “He said, ‘This girl is a friend of mine and I have big plans for her regarding movies, and she’s switching modeling agencies, so we’ve got to do the best for her,’” Sokola says. A spokesperson for Marilyn Agency says Gauthier sold the modeling firm about a decade ago and they have no contact information for her.
By fall 2005, Weinstein made an even bigger promise. “‘I have a part for you in a movie with a huge actress, a ginormous movie,’” Sokola recalls him saying. The movie was The Nanny Diaries, which shot in spring 2006, starring Scarlett Johansson. When Sokola got to the set, she recalls sitting with Johansson and the other lead actress, Alicia Keys, at a table. “‘You’re going to be visible on the screen. You’re going to for sure have your moment,’” she recalls Weinstein saying. “Of course, I was an extra.”
Weinstein also provided Sokola with a recommendation letter for the Lee Strasberg Actor Studio. Rolling Stone has viewed the letter, dated June 20, 2006, written on Weinstein letterhead, and signed by former Weinstein executive Kelly Carmichael, now a successful producer of such films as The Eyes of Tammy Faye and The 355. The letter gushed about Sokola’s “talent, drive, and work ethic” and called her a “gifted actress.”
“All the time he was repeating, ‘You know what? It really is possible for you. I have an eye, obviously. I know who’s going to make it, and you will. But you have to be good to me and then I’m going to be good to you, and this is just between us. You have to remember that,’” Sokola says.
All the while, Sokola found it difficult to cope with the guilt and shame surrounding the Soho apartment incident. She blamed herself. The once-carefree girl developed anxiety, long-term depression, and a severe eating disorder. She quit modeling at the age of 23.
“I still could work. I was in New York. I had some good Fashion Weeks, I had some good opportunities,” she explains. “But I started self-sabotaging my every success because I was feeling that I could not be worth it.”
She couldn’t maintain friendships or healthy romantic relationships. Her weight began to fluctuate wildly.
“She came back a different person,” says Karolina. “More like introvert or maybe she was just, her head a bit in a different world, but never said anything. I could see that something is going on. I can see it from her appearance.”
Over the next decade, Sokola kept the Weinstein trauma a secret. She says she shared some of the details of her experience with a scout at DNA Model Management and otherwise continued on with her life. She graduated from the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw with a Master of Science degree in psychology and began practicing in Poland as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist focusing on the treatment of eating disorders and addictions. In 2017, the DNA scout reached out to Sokola with a link to an article about Paltrow sharing her story of being sexually harassed and intimidated by Weinstein.
“When I saw her name, Gwyneth Paltrow, oh my God, this was like, I don’t know, like a huge rock fell off my chest. I was not the stupid, naive little girl,” she says. “This happened even to an actress who was big like this. This was when I decided to reach out to the lawyers.”
It took another two years before the passage of New York’s Child Victims Act, which allowed Sokola to file her suit. Disney, Miramax, and the Weinstein brothers filed motions to dismiss. In disputing Sokola’s claims, Harvey Weinstein’s team has argued, in part, that the Child Victims Act is unconstitutional, while Disney, Miramax, and Bob Weinstein claimed that they can’t be held liable for Harvey Weinstein’s actions. The case has moved along at a glacial pace amid a Covid backlog in the courts. Sokola’s lawyers intend to keep the legal pressure on Disney, Bob Weinstein, and Miramax, which is now owned by beIN Media Group and Paramount Pictures.
“Harvey could not do what he did to these women if he was not enabled by scores of people,” says Lindsay Goldbrum, one of Sokola’s attorneys.
Some observers who have a vested interest in Disney, like heiress Abigail Disney, say it’s high time that the company that once owned Miramax during Weinstein’s most prolific period of predation acknowledge its own culpability. “Harvey was an open secret,” Disney says, “I mean, it wasn’t even a secret. Everyone knew what Harvey was about, and that was just fine as long as everybody saw it as, ‘Well, this is just how business is done.’ Nobody had the moral clarity to step up and say, ‘Well, not here. We don’t do it that way here.’ I think Disney needs to step up. When you’ve done a wrong thing, even if it’s only by stepping back and letting something happen, that’s still a wrong thing to do. And you have to take responsibility.”
On this February day, Sokola is preparing to return to Poland with her three-year-old son. But war is about to break out in neighboring Ukraine, leaving Poland to bear the brunt of a refugee crisis. Although Sokola is nervous about the future, she’s eager to return to her psychology practice, where she feels like she’s making a difference. Work also helped with her own healing process.
“It showed me a completely different perspective on life and it kind of separated me from my problems,” she says. “Working with people, writing my thesis. I started to work also with people, with girls and boys with eating disorders, and I finally felt like this is something that is worth living for and doing, because I understand it and I came from this place, and I can step in their shoes and really know how to work with problems like this.”
Still, she hopes to hold Weinstein and his enablers accountable with her lawsuit.
“Nobody’s untouchable right now,” she says. “I am very curious if Harvey looks in the mirror and he still thinks, ‘All these bitches,’ or if he has any kind of reconciliation of what he has done.” As for Weinstein’s inner circle, Sokola says, “I would ask, ‘Was it worth it?’ Because there’s no shadow of doubt in me that they knew.”