By Jessica Sutton.
Content Warning: This article contains graphic details which readers may find disturbing.
Six women have testified over the last two weeks about violent sexual assaults and rapes at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. After two weeks of harrowing testimony, the prosecution has rested its case, and the defence called its first witness on Friday. As six women revisited intense trauma, rape myths reared their ugly heads in response to the graphic testimony, demonstrating continued lack of empathy and misinformation about sexual violence in the legal sphere.
Out of the estimated 80 women who have made allegations of sexual assault against Weinstein, six took the stand to provide first person accounts of sexual abuse perpetrated by the former Hollywood producer. Jessica Mann and Miriam Haley (formerly Haleyi) are the primary complainants, with four other women acting as witnesses to Weinstein’s predatory behaviour.
Jessica Mann’s testimony provoked emotion and controversy alike, as she recounted her relationship with Weinstein. Although consensual in parts, the relationship allegedly involved repeated sexual abuse. Ms Mann’s burgeoning acting career led her into contact with Weinstein, who used his wealth and influence to meet with her, purportedly to discuss her career. One such meeting ended in a violent sexual assault during which Ms Mann stated Weinstein forced her into oral sex. She also testified she was raped twice by Weinstein, first when he checked himself into her hotel room and forced her to have sex with him without protection. She stated she “gave up”, without giving consent to the encounter. The second rape was allegedly in response to the knowledge that Ms Mann had begun dating an actor. Ms Mann told how Weinstein grabbed her, yelling “you owe me”, before raping her. Ms Mann described Weinstein as “like Jekyll and Hyde” depending on whether or not she submitted to his wishes.
Miriam Haley told of how she met Weinstein on several occasions in her capacity as production assistant on Project Runway. He allegedly interacted inappropriately with her multiple times, including him asking her to give him a massage. Ms Haley stated that Weinstein pursued her persistently, including visiting her apartment without her consent. The first alleged rape occurred when, out of fear for the damage Weinstein could do to her career, Ms Haley met Weinstein at his apartment. She testified that Weinstein held her down and forced her to have oral sex with him. The second rape occurred in a hotel, where Weinstein allegedly forced her onto a bed and raped her, while calling her degrading names.
Dawn Dunning is one of the “prior bad acts” or Molineux witnesses as I discussed in Weinstein Part One, adding weight to the complainants’ cases. Ms Dunning testified that when she was an aspiring actress, she had a meeting with Weinstein during which Weinstein put his hand up her skirt and tried to touch her vagina. A further meeting with Weinstein involved Ms Dunning being offered three movie contracts, in return for her having a threesome with Weinstein and his assistant. When she refused, she alleges that Weinstein became enraged and threatened her career.
Annabella Sciorra testified that in 1993 or 1994, Weinstein pushed his way into her apartment, held her down and raped her, and also performed oral sex on her without her consent. Ms Sciorra avoided contact with Weinstein after the alleged attack, and did not speak to the Police.
Ms Wulff, a former waitress, testified that Weinstein masturbated in front of her at her place of work. Later, she was led to believe she was attending an audition, and instead was taken by private car to Weinstein’s apartment, where he held her down and raped her.
Ms Young was writing a script at the time of meeting Weinstein, and a mutual acquaintance had arranged a meeting between the two. The acquaintance allegedly shut Ms Young into a bathroom with Weinstein. Ms Young testified that Weinstein then masturbated while sexually assaulting her. Ms Young’s allegations will be key to Weinstein’s Los Angeles trial.
The defence case will begin shortly, focusing on the defence of consent. Weinstein’s defence has already noted that several of the complainants communicated in a supposedly “friendly” manner with Weinstein in the aftermath of their alleged attacks, which will be central to the defence’s argument that each of the women consented.
Why are only some of the accusers prosecuting Weinstein?
Dawn Dunning, Tarale Wulff, and Anabella Sciorra’s assaults occurred too long ago for Weinstein to now be prosecuted. This is the case for many of Weinstein’s accusers. The Statute of Limitations limits the time period within which a claim can be made in New York. If the limitation period has passed, prosecution is time-barred. The lack of prosecutions has nothing to do with the level of evidence available, or the integrity of the women’s accounts. It is purely a procedural bar due to the time at which the assaults and rapes allegedly occurred.
Rape Trials Post-#MeToo: A New beginning?
An optimistic feminist might believe that we are an enlightened society in the wake of the #MeToo phenomenon. The empirical evidence sadly does not support this. Cross-examination of the complainants and witnesses led many to tears, with Ms Mann having to leave court due to a severe panic attack. Disrespect and callous revictimization of complainants continues to be rife through brutal cross-examination. Also, rape myths are already being raised in the opening statement of the defence, in cross-examination, and in comments made outside of court by the media.
“Giving in” isn’t rape. Why didn’t she fight back?
Ms Mann describing how she went “numb” and “gave up” in response to the rape, caused many to speculate as to her truthfulness. Too many people who should know better, continue to present a fabrication of what “real rape” is. The idea of a monster in a dark alley, and the woman who fights furiously against her attacker, is a tiny percentage of rape cases. The majority of rapists are known to the victim, and a rape victim may respond in many ways to the attack. Each of us is familiar with the idea of “fight or flight”, but what is lesser known is the instinct to “freeze”. Women subjected to a terrifying and violent assault by a man may “freeze”, and appear to “give in” to the attack. This is not consent. The instinct to freeze may arise due to intense fear, shock, and the desire to avoid further violence. Rapists may react with fatal violence if a victim tries to resist. The freeze instinct means rape can occur with or without physical injury. A rape victim should not need to receive life threatening injuries in order to “prove” that they were raped.
She drove him to do it. Men can’t help themselves.
This rape myth was raised in a particularly horrendous moment when the dress worn by Ms Young during her assault was held up in Court by defence counsel. Although purportedly only aimed at raising an inconsistency about her testimony, this act of displaying her dress to the jurors clearly invites the jury to make archaic judgments about whether Ms Young “asked for it” due to revealing clothing. This idea of women provoking men to rape was also seen in relation to Ms Mann’s testimony regarding her second rape. The suggestion is that by going against Weinstein’s orders and dating an actor, Ms Mann enraged Weinstein to such a degree that he was not responsible for his actions. The implication is that women who make men jealous, or wear revealing clothing, are the cause of their violation.
This is a common misconception around rape, used to blame the victim and shift responsibility away from the perpetrator. Implicit in this myth is that men are animals, incapable of controlling themselves in the face of overwhelming sexual desire. I also find this misconception offensive to decent men. Men are not animals. Men are human beings with the same amount of impulse control as women. If a man rapes, it is because he has chosen to do so.
Why would she still spend time with him after a rape? She must be lying.
This is the myth most likely to be preyed upon by defence counsel to create doubt in the jurors’ minds. The danger of this rape myth lies in its supposed logic – why would someone who has experienced a terrifying assault, continue to spend time with their attacker? This apparent logic falls away with basic research into the dynamics of sexual violence. As we saw in the Grace Millane murder trial, a woman may continue to message or associate with an attacker out of fear of stalking or violent repercussions. In this case, it must be remembered that Weinstein was referred to as the “God” of Hollywood. For a lot of these women, he held their careers in the palm of his hand. Economic and reputational coercion can absolutely force victims into maintaining contact with an influential abuser.
It’s time for courts everywhere in the world to stop questioning how a “real rape victim” should act, and start looking at the evidence with an impartial, and most importantly, informed mind.
I’m not alone in the sentiment that Weinstein’s frail demeanour and reliance on a walker seems a little too forced to be natural, particularly in light of these crimes relying on a certain amount of physical strength. It is not uncommon for the accused in sexual violence trials to attempt to portray themselves as the antithesis of a powerful rapist. Weinstein appears as a frail old man, incapable of even climbing the courthouse steps without help, let alone terrorising a huge group of strong, young women. We should regard such appearances with a critical eye. The courtroom can serve as a performance space for a savvy perpetrator aiming to play on the sympathies of a jury.
This effect may be exacerbated by Weinstein’s choice to employ a female defence lawyer. This is also a common choice in high profile sexual violence cases, as the accused’s primary association is with a woman, leading less sophisticated jurors to question the veracity of the complainants’ accounts. Many laypeople still believe that lawyers do not take a case if they do not believe the client to be innocent. In this situation, many may believe that a female lawyer would not defend a man accused of rape if she did not believe in his innocence. This is a misconception which must be addressed in the minds of the public. A lawyer is there to perform a function, not always to do what they believe is just or right. Choosing a female lawyer can absolutely amount to a political choice by a perpetrator aiming to appeal to the sympathies of female jurors.
After an emotional two weeks of testimony, the greatest challenge to achieving justice for the complainants and witnesses is yet to come. As was recently highlighted in our coverage of the Grace Millane murder trial, the defence’s case can pander to victim-blaming and allegations of lies to build doubt in the jurors’ minds.
Knowing this, deciding to come forward is a true testament to the bravery of the women involved in this trial. Kia kaha to all the women who have taken the stand, and who will continue to be present in the coming weeks. Your strength is inspirational, and we thank you. Millions of women and allies are rooting for you. You are not alone.