The Weinstein Defense Team’s Aggressive Victim-Blaming Tactic Raises Questions

Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.
The New York trial against ousted movie mogul Harvey Weinstein came to a sudden halt yesterday when one of the women laying charges of sexual assault against Weinstein became inconsolable on the witness stand.
The woman, Jessica Mann, who is one of two women accusing Weinstein in the supreme court case, was reportedly subjected to more than four hours of relentless questioning from Weinstein’s defense attorney, Donna Rotunno. Mann accused Weinstein of violently raping her twice in 2013, but Weinstein's team had a different take on the events that passed.
In opening statements, Rotunno and her defense team promised to refrain from shaming Weinstein’s accusers, but their tactics seemed to shift after the emotional first testimony of Annabella Sciorra. Since then, multiple women have taken the stand, with each testimony proving to crack Weinstein's defense even further. When Mann was questioned on Monday about the alleged rape, Weinstein's defense team did not hold back in trying to make a case that the accuser was lying about the event altogether.
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“You manipulated Mr. Weinstein every single time you saw him, isn’t that correct?” Rotunno, notorious for her aggressive cross-examination style, asked Mann. “Every time you engaged in consensual sexual encounters with him you manipulated him, isn’t that correct? You made him feel you wanted sexual relations with him.” Mann disagreed saying, “No, that is not correct.”
This isn’t the first time Weinstein’s lawyers blamed his accusers. In a Nightline interview, Rotunno said that in “circumstances where women don’t want to take certain responsibilities for their actions, we infantilize ourselves.”
This line of questioning continued until the supreme court judge presiding over the case, James Burke, called for a recess until Tuesday morning after Mann appeared to have a panic attack brought on when Rotunno asked her to read aloud an email she sent to her ex-boyfriend. The email, sent in May 2014, described her experience with Weinstein as well as a previous, unrelated sexual assault. The suspension was called when even after a brief break, Mann was still too upset to answer further questions.
On Tuesday, testimonies resumed after the grueling questioning of Jessica Mann. Rotunno continued her line of questioning focusing on the emails exchanged between Mann and Weinstein after the alleged assaults. This time, she singled out Mann's tone in their correspondence, why she didn't report it earlier, and questioning why Mann would stay in contact with a man who she claims assaulted her. While it wasn't quite as striking as Monday's clear tactic to pressure Mann into taking responsibility for her alleged rape, this line of questioning still elicited the same concerns over victim-blaming, and is often part of the reason many women cease to come forward all together.
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According to RAINN, the most recurring reason women do not report sexual assault is out of fear of retaliation. Further reasons for not reporting include the belief that law enforcement would do nothing to help. That says nothing of women considering speaking out against someone who has considerable influence and power in a very public industry. Additionally, women who have survived sexual assault are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder afterward.
Weinstein faces charges in New York, Los Angeles, and London. In this particular trial, he is charged with two counts of felony predatory sexual assault, one felony count of criminal sexual act, two felony counts of rape. Mann and Mimi Haleyi, a former production assistant. Weinstein has denied all charges laid against him, but if convicted, he faces life in prison.
Only two women are named in this case, but the list of women who have told their own stories of being allegedly sexually assaulted, abused, or harassed by Weinstein adds up to over 100 women, reports the Guardian. This case only addresses the accounts of Mann and Haleyi.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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