A forensic psychiatrist testified Friday at Harvey Weinstein’s sex-crimes trial, attempting to dispel “myths of rape trauma”—and explain why some of the movie mogul’s accusers continued to have contact with their alleged abuser.
“As devastating as sexual assault is, most individuals think, ‘Ok, I can put it behind me. I can move on with my life. I don’t want it to get worse. I don’t want this person who sexually assaulted me to ruin my friendships or put my job in jeopardy. I am just going to put it in a box and forget what happened. I don’t want it to get worse,’” Dr. Barbara Ziv told jurors in Manhattan Supreme Court.
“But they can’t,” she said.
As the prosecution’s first expert witness in the anticipated six-week trial, Ziv’s testimony provided a rebuttal to Weinstein’s biggest defense: How could the Oscar-winner be a sexual predator, as over 80 women claim, if some of his accusers kept interacting with him for years after their alleged assaults?
“Sometimes women will have subsequent contact with the perpetrator because they can’t really believe that this happened to them,” explained Ziv, wearing a black-and-white dress and black blazer. “They’re hoping that this is just an aberration. You hear that all the time.”
Weinstein, 67, faces five charges, including predatory sexual assault and first-degree rape, for allegedly performing an unwanted sex act on his former production assistant in 2006 and raping another woman in 2013. The disgraced Hollywood producer, who’s repeatedly denied all allegations of sexual assault, could face life in prison if convicted.
Ziv said that after evaluating thousands of sexual-assault victims and perpetrators during her 20 years of experience, she believes that there are “over 100 behaviors” victims can exhibit in response to abuse. She said that while most women are assaulted by someone they know and often don’t fight off their attacker for fear of further harm, every response is individual because of a “series of other factors.”
“There are a whole range of behaviors, none of which tells you whether a sexual assault occurred,” she said, stressing that the notion that “one can determine whether somebody has been raped by their behavior” is a myth.
While victims may develop PTSD or substance dependency, she said, others may pretend the situation never happened and continue to have a relationship with their attacker. Ziv added that many sexual-assault victims don’t immediately report the abuse and often reach out to their assailants after the attack.
“A vast majority of sexual assault victims don’t report promptly,” she said. “The time can range from days to months, to years to report an assault—to never.” Sometimes, she said, they “go back” with their attacker, trying to “just pretend it never happened.”
Weinstein, who shuffled into court on Friday with a new black walker, scribbled on a yellow notepad as the forensic psychiatrist testified.
At least three of the six women who are set to testify about Weinstein’s pattern of predatory communicated with the toppled titan after their alleged attacks. Prosecutors argue Weinstein was able to use his “power and prestige” to prey on dozens of vulnerable young women seeking professional guidance and keep them quiet after the abuse.
Ziv said it’s “extremely common” for accusers to keep in contact with their attackers.
“Perpetrators of sexual assault, often not only have they overpowered a woman—physically showing they can dominate their body—often there are threats either implied or explicitly said to an individual,” she testified.
Ziv, who has been a member of the Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders Assessment Board for two decades, offered similar testimony at Bill Cosby’s 2018 re-trial, which ended with the disgraced comedian’s conviction on charges that he drugged and molested a woman.
“People believe they know things about sexual assault, those are called rape myths. Rape myths involve misconceptions about rape and sexual assault,” the psychiatrist said Friday.
While Weinstein has only been charged with sexually assaulting two women, Miriam Haleyi and Jessica Mann, the jury will also hear from four of his other accusers as the prosecution seeks to prove he exhibited a pattern of predatory behavior.
Annabella Sciorra, best known for her role in The Sopranos, recounted in graphic detail on Thursday that in 1993 or 1994 Weinstein raped her and performed oral sex on her without consent inside her Manhattan apartment.
The 59-year-old actress admitted that after the rape, she didn’t tell authorities and wanted to forget the assault for the sake of her career and life—only telling a friend and actress Rosie Perez about it years later.
“I wanted to pretend it never happened because I wanted to get back to my life,” she said while choking back tears. “I was confused, I wished I had never opened the door.”
While not mentioning Sciorra by name, Ziv said that “misconceptions about rape” can make victims feel conflicted by their response to a sexual assault and lead them to pretend it never happened.
“They don’t want to be branded as a victim of sexual assault and there is a subset of individuals who never reports to anybody for fear of retribution,” the professor said.
During cross-examination, Weinstein defense attorney Damon Cheronis tried to discredit Ziv’s professional evaluation by stating she was being paid by the prosecution and did not evaluate Weinstein’s accusers personally. Cheronis also told jurors that Ziv said the #MeToo movement has led to “distorted” discussions about sexual assault in a March CNN interview.
During opening statements on Wednesday, Cheronis pointed to “loving” emails Weinstein’s accusers sent the disgraced producer after their alleged assaults as evidence their sexual encounters were consensual.