In the weeks following the first breach of her nondisclosure agreement, Zelda Perkins, Harvey Weinstein’s former personal assistant, felt dizzy with optimism.
After an appearance on Newsnight in 2017, in which she spoke publicly about the oppressive nondisclosure agreement (NDA) by which she was silenced at 24 two decades earlier, Perkins found herself feted in Parliament . The end of the use of NDAs as a means of covering up abuse was, she believed, in sight.
Four years later, on the anniversary of Weinstein’s crimes revelation, that optimism has all but died out. “Legally, nothing has changed. Nothing. Regulators haven’t changed the rules since 1998, ”she said.
She argues that the use of nondisclosure agreements, a contract in which the parties agree not to discuss any matter relating to a disagreement normally in exchange for a settlement, remains common in fields ranging from construction from disagreements to sexual harassment in the workplace.
Although there has been a “societal change,” she fears that all she has done is “highlight the loophole” and, as a result, lawyers are using more obfuscation and obfuscation tactics. threat to impose non-disclosure agreements.
“The government has already spent huge sums on this,” she said. “But since Theresa May’s cabinet was dissolved, all of this work, all of this, has been ignored. It seemed like things were about to change but, in fact, we are now in a more dangerous position than ever. “
She accuses the government of failing to change a failing system and fears that women now pushing for a complete system change to tackle violence against women will also be disappointed.
“Everything that’s going on for me right now is just ripples coming from the same place, which is a systematic problem,” she says. “We have to be careful not to have a false sense of confidence. All the screaming, all this reporting of problems isn’t actually making the change where it needs to be – at the heart of the system.
While Perkins hailed the wave of outrage around Weinstein that brought Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement to a wider audience, she is frustrated that it took a ‘white monster’ to get people to listen – which , she says, has parallels with the current focus on Wayne Couzens.
“This minimizes the problem,” she says.
On the eve of the anniversary, Perkins is moved – she is also tired. She explains that her trust in politicians – at least those with the power to effect change – has taken a huge hit.
“My overriding emotion is, to be honest, a huge disappointment with the UK government,” she said. “Sadly, Boris Johnson’s government, instead of actually addressing any of these issues, is obscuring.”
In September, Conservative MP Maria Miller, who chaired the Women and Equality Committee when Perkins broke her confidentiality agreement and was her champion in the House of Commons, proposed new law that would prevent “defamatory” employers use NDAS to “silence disclosure of workplace harms”.
The Lawyers Regulatory Authority in England and Wales has issued warnings, but Perkins contends that this only underscores the old guidelines and despite the best efforts of “fabulous women” like Miller and Jess Phillips from Labor, l The momentum at ministerial level that had accumulated has disappeared.
Two inquiries by the Women and Equality Commission were followed by a consultation in 2019 by the Ministry of Business Strategy, Energy and Industry (BEIS). Perkins says his recommendations have not been implemented and the UK is being left behind. New legislation pushed by Senator Lynn Ruane has won Seanad’s support in Ireland and the law is under review in some US states, Canada and Australia.
Perkins reserves particular dismay at the appointment of Dominic Raab as Justice Secretary – pointing out that he reached a non-disclosure settlement as part of a settlement with a former colleague in 2007, before become a member of Parliament. According to court documents, the woman received a sum “in return for confidentiality obligations”.
“He won’t be interested in changing the law regarding nondisclosure agreements, of course he isn’t,” she said.
Raab has previously said he was the subject of an allegation of intimidation, which he denied, adding that the allegations had been independently investigated and were found to be unfounded. He said his employer settled the matter confidentially and had “no choice but to decide” and did not pay for the settlement.
A BEIS spokesperson said the government “will not tolerate the use of non-disclosure agreements as a means to silence and intimidate victims, or to prevent them from speaking out about professional misconduct at work” . A spokesperson said the government remains “committed to implementing legislation to crack down on these practices when parliamentary time permits.”
With Canadian author and NDA whistleblower, Dr Julie Macfarlane, Perkins launched a global campaign, Can’t Buy My Silence, which aims to expose the misuse of NDAs, in the same way Everyone’s Invited has denounced sexual harassment in schools.
She is not hopeless. The wave of public attention after the #MeToo movement has ebbed and sunk, but she believes people have found their voices. After a forced break during the pandemic, she is ready to jump back into the fray.
“I can’t leave without trying a little harder,” she said. “I think there are now a lot more voices and a lot more people ready to listen and take over. The powers that be are always looking in the wrong direction, but they can’t much longer. “