Sexual Abuse Victims Don’t All Respond The Same Way and Jurors Need to Know This

Here’s a simple equation none of us learned in school. Many victims + Many crimes = Many responses.

We should keep this in mind as we read about sexual violence, especially now as the Harvey Weinstein trial begins.  Let’s break this down piece by piece.

Somewhere in the US, a woman is raped every 2 minutes (according to the Justice Department).

https://www.wcsap.org/help/about-sexual-assault/how-often-does-it-happen

Every year in the US, almost 3 million cases of child abuse are reported.

https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-child-abuse

These crimes are diverse (we don’t need to spell out the variations), happen in all kinds of places (homes, offices, parks, institutions and businesses) all kinds of circumstances (daytime, nighttime, sober, drunk) to all kinds of people (young, old, healthy, ill, successful, less successful).

These two facts – many victims and many crimes – inevitably and logically add up to another fact: that there are as many responses and reactions to abuse and rape as there are victims.  So the notion that there’s a “right” way, or even a “usual” way victims act after having been violated is insulting nonsense. This is why it’s disingenuous – and of course hurtful – when Weinstein’s lawyers claim that his victims weren’t really raped because some of them kept in touch with the Hollywood bigshot afterwards.

https://www.chicagolawbulletin.com/metoo-prosecutors-deploy-experts-early-to-thwart-weinstein-defense-20200121

For example, one of Weinstein’s alleged victims wrote him later “Miss you big guy.”  Another wrote to him later “There is no one else I would enjoy catching up with that understands me quite like you.”

And a Weinstein defender, attorney Donna Rotunno, said that while some women might have regretted having sex with the former producer, “regret sex is not rape.”  “I think a woman who is a victim of rape is going to look at that and say, ‘That’s not what rape victims do.’ If you were really raped, this is not what you do,” she told Vanity Fair magazine, reports the Associated Press.

Baloney.

Consider these cases:

—One might say “Well, if you’d heard people gossip that this coach was too ‘hands on,’ why didn’t you move your kids to another school?”

(Maybe the low income mom can’t afford private school. And has four other kids in the same school who need the stability of staying in one place. And maybe she fears that the only way her kid will be able to attend college is with an athletic scholarship. And after all, it’s just gossip she’s heard, nothing more.)

—One might might say “Well, if the youth pastor seemed to be paying you so much attention and you weren’t comfortable, why didn’t you just pick a different church to attend?”

(Maybe it was a small town with just one Methodist church, the one founded by the teenager’s great grandfather and the one where all her relatives were deeply involved. Maybe she felt like she couldn’t suddenly declare she wanted to start going to the Lutheran church without raising all kinds of awkward questions and pressure from her family.)

—One might might say “Well, if the boss was making you feel creeped out, why didn’t you just quit?”

(Maybe he threatened the woman with termination, demotion, transfer, or even violence. Maybe the young woman’s saddled with debt and an inconsistent work history and loves her job while also feeling trapped in it. Maybe her employer pays for her evening classes and she’s working to get a degree so she can move onto to a safer or more stable career.)

Again, quite simply – many victims, many circumstances, many reactions.

According to the Associated Press, Weinstein’s prosecutors ”are using the very same expert, Dr. Barbara Ziv, (who) was the first prosecution witness at Bill Cosby’s retrial.”

Good for them. Experts can be helpful. Jurors need to be educated about the various and perfectly understandable ways victims of sexual respond to their trauma.

At the same time, however, can’t we all start to use our common sense and accept the simple truth that everyone is different and our responses to violence and exploitation are different too? Can’t we keep the focus where it really belongs – on the behavior of predators before and during their crimes, instead of the behavior of victims afterwards?