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Weinstein trial progresses as prosecution rests

by Kari Ashworth - Executive Editor
Wed, Feb 19th 2020 12:45 pm
Rotunno recently stated she has not been assaulted because she`would never put herself in that position,` framing assault as a victim's personal failing. Photo Credit: @StvBurns via Twitter
Rotunno recently stated she has not been assaulted because she"would never put herself in that position," framing assault as a victim's personal failing. Photo Credit: @StvBurns via Twitter

Since October 2017, over 80 women have accused movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. Weinstein was officially charged by New York prosecutors in May 2018, with another charge being added in July 2018. On Jan. 6, 2020, the trial began, with six women testifying over the past two weeks.

While the trial centers around two specific allegations, one in which Weinstein allegedly raped a woman in March 2013 and another where in he allegedly forced oral sex on a woman in 2006, other accusers were allowed to testify “because prosecutors allege there was a practiced method to Weinstein’s attacks,” according to the Associated Press. 

The testimonies all mentioned a similar experience, with Weinstein pretending to be interested in their careers as a way to get them alone in order to attack them. 

One unnamed accuser who took the stand said Weinstein “trapped her in a Manhattan hotel room, angrily ordered her to undress as he loomed over her and then raped her before they were to meet her friends for breakfast on the eve of his 61st birthday,” according to the Associated Press. The woman, 34, spent three days testifying, even breaking down during cross examination.

As reported by the Associated Press, Weinstein’s defense attorney Donna Rotunno focused on the woman’s continued relationship with Weinstein following the alleged rape, to which the woman explained her relationship with Weinstein is complex but declared “he is my rapist.”

Mimi Haleyi testified Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her at his SoHo apartment after she was given an assistant job on “Project Runway,” which is produced by Weinstein. Haleyi then testified they had sex two weeks later, but she did not believe she was coerced into it. Weinstein’s lawyers claimed this proved the first encounter was also consensual.

Annabella Sciorra testified Weinstein “barged into her apartment, threw her on a bed and forced himself on her as she futilely kicked and punched him” after they attended a dinner together in late 1993 or early 1994, according to the Associated Press. Given the alleged crime is too old to be prosecuted, the prosecutors have used Sciorra’s testimony to prove a pattern of abuse.

Three other women also testified to show Weinstein’s alleged pattern of abuse: Tarale Wulff, Dawn Dunning and Lauren Marie Young. Wulff claimed Weinstein lured her to his SoHo apartment with the intention of reading a script for a movie and raped her. 

Dunning “told jurors that he put his hand up her skirt and fondled her genitals during what was supposed to be a meeting about her fledgling career in his hotel suite in 2004,” the Associated Press reported, and days later attempted to trade movie roles for a three-way. 

Young “testified Weinstein stripped naked, groped her breast and masturbated in the bathroom of his Beverly Hills hotel room days before the Oscars in February 2013.” Weinstein was criminally charged in California on Monday, Jan. 6, for this alleged assault. 

The prosecution rested on Thursday, Feb. 6, and the defense will now call witnesses. However, the woman behind Weinstein’s defense, Rotunno, recently made the news on her own right — for a series of victim-blaming comments said on The Daily, a New York Times podcast.

Toward the end of the podcast, Megan Twohey, who broke the story on Weinstein in 2017, asked Rotunno if she has ever been sexually assaulted. 

“I have not because I would never put myself in that position,” Rotunno said on the New York Times podcast. “I’ve always made choices from college age on where I never drank too much. I never went home with someone that I didn't know. I just never put myself in any vulnerable circumstances ever.”

Twohey then asked if Rotunno believes every woman who has been sexually assaulted could have prevented it from happening. 

“Absolutely not but just as we make smart decisions when we walk out on the street at night, I think you have to make the same decision when you’re putting yourself in circumstances with other people,” Rotunno added during the podcast. “When we walk out at night, we look around, we make sure we have our phone, some people take mace. We take precautions. All I'm saying is women should take precautions.”

This kind of rhetoric is incredibly dangerous, especially coming from a woman. Granted, Rotunno has made her career out of cases like this. The Chicago-based lawyer habitually defends men accused of sexual crimes and has said that a woman approaching a victim on the witness stand places her “on more of an equal playing field and less of a situation where it looks like somebody is being bullied,” according to NPR.

Regardless of her courtroom strategies, hearing a woman perpetuate rape culture in 2020 is quite jarring. It is not only offensive but dismissive of those who speak out against their abusers. And on top of that, this kind of language continues to prevent victims — however they identify — to speak their truth.

This trial is not only the culmination of the #MeToo Movement but also an attempt to undermine its impact. And while I do agree we should look closely at the evidence presented when women allege assault, I also think it is important to understand that evidence is not always available. 

Not to mention that false reports, which make up between 2% and 8% of reported assaults, can be considered false due to a number of factors, including victims recanting statements in fear of retaliation. 

We have reached a point in society where we are divisive as ever, where people can only be right or wrong and there is no grey area, which is really sad. I think you can believe victims while having questions, and I think having women in powerful positions being a mouthpiece for toxic ideas like rape culture and victim blaming is overall terrifying.

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