HARVEY WEINSTEIN’S VICTIMS
Harvey Weinstein should send Donald Trump a thank you note. If it weren’t for the impeachment trial and the frightening aftermath of Trump firing witnesses who dared to tell the truth, Trump blaspheming at the National Prayer breakfast, Trump going on an unhinged tirade in the East Room of the White House, Weinstein’s trial would have been a much more prominent news story. That said, despite the fact that Donald Trump squats down on the news of the day and pushes everyone else out, the trial of Harvey Weinstein has gotten enough coverage that the tactics of his attorney, Donna Rotunno, are well known. She has bullied and berated women on the stand to the point of bringing one woman to tears and a near panic attack.
Recently, Ms. Rotunno was asked if she had ever been the victim of sexual assault. “No, I haven’t,” she answered. “I would never put myself in that position.”
Which is pretty much at the heart of her defense strategy: Women should know better than to go to a hotel room with a man, women shouldn’t drink too much, flirt too much, hope that a powerful man might help them with their career. She has, inexplicably, called herself the “ultimate feminist,” which might be funny except for the fact that we are talking about rape victims. We’re also talking about one woman trying to make another woman look like she asked for it.
How lucky for Ms. Rotunno that she’s never been sexually assaulted. She might want to consider that those of us who have been didn’t think we were putting ourselves in that position at the time. And after it happened, we did a really good job of blaming ourselves, of second-guessing why we didn’t fight harder, try to run, why we had ever agreed to be alone with the man in the first place. Still, the ugly truth remains – we were raped.
Years ago, I had the honor of meeting and talking with Gail Abarbanel who started the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center in 1974. It was the 80’s, and I had a role in a television show in which I played a rape victim. I told Ms. Abarbanel I was doing research for the role, but the truth was, I was doing research for myself, for the evening when I went to a music executive’s office and ended up with him on top of me, inside me, pinned to his leather couch. Ms. Abarbanel would have been the perfect person to confide in, but I still couldn’t talk about it. It took me roughly 40 years to write about it, that was how deep the shame and embarrassment went.
She told me that in the late 70’s, rape victims were held to a different standard than in other crimes. The laws required women to show proof that they had resisted in order to establish that rape had occurred. It took constant work on the part of Ms. Abarbanel and many others to finally get across the truth — that women freeze in those situations. They can’t defend themselves, they can barely move. And what happens after the rape is complicated, especially if it’s someone you know. I would like to say that if that music executive had called me afterward and wanted to place some of my songs, I’d have absolutely said no, that I would never meet with him again after what he did. But the truth is, I don’t know what I would have done. I was racked with guilt even though I’d done nothing wrong. I might have chosen denial, I just don’t know.
Donna Rotunno is setting justice for rape victims back decades with her accusations against the women who have come forward and revealed what Harvey Weinstein did to them. It’s possible, if she is successful, that rape victims might once again find themselves being forced to prove that they fought back, to supply evidence that it was forced sex, not consensual. And once again, women will keep silent, because how can you prove that you cried “No!” when only you and your rapist heard it? How can you prove that all the strength went out of your muscles, and you were unable to fight back? How can you prove that the reason you didn’t go to the police is that your rapist is powerful and vengeful and would ruin the rest of your life, and you were terrified of him?
It’s interesting that both Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein were being tried at the same time because the two men actually have a lot in common. They have always made it clear that they will destroy anyone who crosses them. They have always operated under the assumption that they can do whatever they want to whomever they want. Weinstein was smart enough to choose a female attorney who is determined to prove him right.