Anchorwoman and sportscaster Leeann Tweeden, who on Thursday accused comedian Al Franken of groping her a decade ago, said “the tide is turning” for victims of sexual assault in the post-Harvey Weinstein era.
“When this whole Harvey Weinstein thing came out ... I had to decide is this the time to tell my story,” Tweeden said during a news conference Thursday after publishing her story about Franken.
She continued: “I wanted to speak out 11 years ago, but people said you will get annihilated and never have a career again. And I was afraid of that. But I’m not afraid of that anymore. Could it still happen? Sure. But I’m a lot more secure with myself and my career.”
She added that “there’s strength in numbers.”
“I think the tide is turning,” she said.
Tweeden’s article detailing the incident, published on the website of Los Angeles news station KABC, said she decided to come forward because “there may be others.”
“While debating whether or not to go public, I even thought to myself, so much worse has happened to so many others, maybe my story isn’t worth telling? But my story is worth telling,” she wrote. “Not just because 2017 is not 2006, or because I am much more secure in my career now than I was then, and not because I’m still angry. I’m telling my story because there may be others.”
Tweeden accused Franken, now the junior Democratic senator from Minnesota, of kissing and groping her without her consent during a USO tour in December 2006. Franken was headlining the event, and Tweeden was emceeing.
Franken had written a skit in which his character tried to kiss Tweeden, and reportedly urged her to rehearse the scene backstage one day. When Tweeden tried to ignore his appeals, she said, Franken badgered her until she agreed.
“It reminded me of the Harvey Weinstein tape ... when the girl was wired up for the NYPD ― just persistent and badgering,” she said.
Tweeden said Franken assaulted her after they began practicing the scene.
“He came at me and before you know it, he put his hand on the back of my head. He just mashed his lips against my face and stuck his tongue in my mouth,” she said. “I was just disgusted. I was violated. I just felt like he betrayed my trust.”
Tweeden said Franken continued to harass her throughout the tour, and he took a photo of himself on the final day groping her breasts while she was sleeping.
Franken released two statements on Thursday responding to Tweeden’s story.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” he said initially. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
In a longer statement released soon after, Franken apologized to Tweeden and called for an ethics investigation of his behavior.
“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed,” Franken said.
Asked whether she believed Franken should resign, Tweeden said she wasn’t calling for such action. “That’s not my place to say that,” she told reporters.
Tweeden said that since coming forward with her story, she received a call from another woman alleging a similar experience.
“I haven’t answered it yet,” she said. “That’s to be determined.”
Tweeden’s fears that speaking up sooner could hurt her career are echoed in stories of dozens of women who have come forward with sexual assault allegations in recent months.
Actress Katherine Kendall, who was among the Weinstein accusers interviewed by The New York Times, said she decided not to come forward initially, telling herself: “I’ll never work again and no one is going to care or believe me.”
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman contributed to this report.