New York State vs. Harvey Weinstein

Weinstein’s Alleged Victims’ Experiences Are Consistent with Those of Sexual Trauma Survivors

Culture, Power, Safety, Silencebreakers, TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, Weinstein

Statements made directly by Weinstein’s defense team, as well as background material Weinstein’s camp is reportedly sharing with journalists, demonstrate his defense is centered around two central arguments disputed by research: stereotypes about how victims do (or should) behave after an assault and the characteristics of men who perpetrate sexual assault.

Sexual assault is most often committed by people known to their victims

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in three women and one in six men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Of women who are raped, over half (51 percent) are raped by an intimate partner and 40 percent are raped by an acquaintance.

The consequences of sexual trauma are serious: large, epidemiologic studies show that sexual traumas in particular are most frequently associated with PTSD, depression, substance misuse, and other adverse health effects.

For a variety of reasons, victims may remain friendly with their abusers

Most victims know their abuser, so it is not uncommon for survivors of sexual violence at the hands of a professional acquaintance or intimate partner to maintain contact with their abuser. Doing so does not mean that the victim “consented” in any way to the perpetrator’s abusive behavior.

In addition, because of the complex ways in which sexual assault and related coersion and abuse exploit power and control — and, thus, undermine victims’ self-confidence and self-esteem — many victims struggle to break-off contact. In some instances, abusers may swear that it will never happen again, work to redeem themselves — and exploit their victim’s natural tendency to forgive. In others, those in an abusive relationship may go through periods of calm between incidents of violence.

Victims sometimes cope by “focus[ing] on their perpetrator’s loving side and shut[ting] out the abuse,” and maintaining contact to elicit such affirmative behavior from the abuser. Often, victims may blame themselves for the encounter and convince themselves — or be convinced by the abuser — that an assault was not what they thought it was.

Or, as was likely with Weinstein, an abuser may have actual or perceived power over his victim, and therefore the victim may seek to maintain friendly contact in order to avoid retaliation from the abuser. This is especially likely when the abuser is an extremely powerful “rainmaker” with outsized influence over others (for powerful abusers like Weinstein, “the rules” generally do not apply).

It often takes time for survivors to report to anyone, let alone to the authorities

There are many reasons why survivors do not disclose traumatic events until long after they occur. Failure to disclose sexual assault immediately does not mean it never happened.

Three out of four sexual assaults go unreported to the police. Rape is often the result of coercion — not physical force — and survivors often need time to reconcile what has happened to them before coming forward, if they choose to do so at all. In addition to shame and stigma, fear of not being believed and/or uncertainty of the consequences of engaging in a complicated justice system tend to prevent sexual assault survivors from reporting to the authorities.

Likewise, an estimated three out of four sexual harassment cases are never formally reported. In addition to the barriers that prevent survivors of other sexual traumas from reporting, survivors of work-related sexual misconduct also legitimately fear for their careers, promotions, and even their safety.

Most rapists are repeat offenders; after one victim comes forward, others may follow

Once a few stories became public, over 80 women came forward to allege that Harvey Weinstein committed sexual misconduct, ranging from harassment to attempted or completed rape. The details of each story are hauntingly familiar, which makes them all the more credible.

Most rapists are repeat offenders: a survey of men whose self-reported sexual acts met legal definitions of rape or attempted rape, but whose actions went undetected by the criminal justice system, found over 60 percent were repeat offenders against multiple victims or the same victim. Eighty percent of respondents admitted to raping women who were intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

Disassociation or intoxication during an assault, as well as disbelief afterward, often prevent survivors from reconciling what happened even to themselves. Furthermore, gaslighting by perpetrators, a victim’s own self-blame, comorbid mental health conditions, and doubt about whether it is worth the toll of coming forward and navigating the criminal justice system also prevent survivors from disclosing their assault to others.

That is why it usually takes at least one survivor coming forward first before others do: most victims will continue to doubt themselves and assume they will be doubted if they report, unless others come forward to make a complaint about someone.