‘Vile, outdated, lazy, victim-blaming tactics’: Weinstein lawyer blasted for saying she would never ‘put herself in a position’ to be sexually assaulted

‘How can this woman remain part of the legal system if she believes it is not the perpetrator but the crime victim who is guilty’

Clémence Michallon
New York
Friday 07 February 2020 21:21
Harvey Weinstein tells reporter his legal team 'are great' as he arrives at court

Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer has come under stern criticism after making “ignorant” comments about sexual assault in an interview.

Donna Rotunno is part of the legal team representing Weinstein in his ongoing criminal trial in New York City, where Weinstein is charged with raping a woman in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act in 2006. He has pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.

Ms Rotunno was interviewed in an episode of The Daily, a news podcast produced by The New York Times, released on Friday. Megan Twohey, one of the reporters who first reported on the allegations against Weinstein in 2017, asked Ms Rotunno towards the end of the conversation whether she had ever been sexually assaulted herself.

“I have not,” Ms Rotunno said, adding: “because I would never put myself in that position.” When Ms Twohey pressed her on that comment, Ms Rotunno said: “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.”

The comments were met with a backlash, with many viewing Ms Rotunno’s remarks as an instance of victim-blaming.

Among those speaking out is Sarah Ann Masse, one of the women who has come forward against Harvey Weinstein. Ms Masse has alleged that Weinstein hugged her while in his underwear as she was interviewing to be his children’s nanny.

“The woman represents a serial sexual predator in court – nothing she says should be a surprise to anyone and yet it is,” Ms Masse told The Independent in response to Ms Rotunno’s comments.

“The media needs to stop giving her a platform to spread her vile, outdated, lazy, victim-blaming tactics.”

Caitlin Dulany, who alleges that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 1996 at a hotel in Cannes, France, told The Independent: “This is an incredibly harmful narrative to spread. A woman always has the right to say no, in any circumstance she may find or ‘put herself’ in – late at night, having consumed alcohol, with a man who is obviously interested in her sexually, if she has been flirting with him, even if she has engaged in sexual activity with him.

“In my experience, men respect that this is a woman’s choice, no matter the circumstances. When a man doesn’t listen and pushes himself on her, then it is assault. This is what Harvey did over and over again. Donna Rotunno can’t change the definition of assault, even if she thinks it will get her client off.

“The law and basic human decency and respect dictate what is right and wrong and who is responsible if a woman is assaulted, not Donna Rotunno. She got this all wrong and she knows it. It’s classic victim-blaming.”

Louise Godbold, another of the women who has spoken out against Weinstein (Ms Godbold has alleged that an office tour in the nineties “became an occasion to trap me in an empty meeting room, the begging for a massage, his hands on my shoulders as I attempted to beat a retreat”), reacted on Twitter.

“How can this woman remain part of the legal system if she believes it is not the perpetrator but the crime victim who is guilty because they ‘put themselves in that position’? Let’s just put all the victims in jail instead!” Ms Godbold wrote.

Laura Palumbo, the communications director of the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, a non-profit based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, told The Independent in response to Ms Rotunno’s comments: “Sexual assault happens when someone violates another person’s boundaries and body. No one intentionally puts themselves in a position to be sexually assaulted. People who commit sexual assault strategically exploit the trust of their victims.

“Victims are never to blame. It doesn’t matter what someone was wearing, how they were acting, if they were drinking, or what type of relationship they had with the person who abused them.

“Not only does saying this send a victim-blaming message but it is ignorant of the many ways sexual assault happens. Sexual assault also happens to children, teens, men, and older adults. No one is ever asking to be sexually assaulted, and most incidences are committed by someone the victim knows and trusts. The blame and scrutiny that victims face when they come forward is silencing, and sexual assault continues to be the most underreported violent crime.

“Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse happen in every setting – homes, schools, workplaces, transportation, faith communities, military service, and beyond. Sexual violence thrives when it is not taken seriously and victim-blaming goes unchallenged.”

Toni Van Pelt, the president of the National Organisation for Women, a feminist group based in Washington DC told The Independent: “It is irresponsible at best, and victim-blaming at worst to bring irrelevant details such as a woman’s attire or the amount of alcohol she consumed into a conversation about sexual assault.

“The only person who is responsible for a sexual assault is the perpetrator. Period.

“Abusers do not need to have excuses made on their behalf – their violent and horrific actions speak for themselves. This sort of commentary only serves to protect those in positions of privilege who have been caught abusing their power. It is reprehensible and it must come to an end. Abusers must be held accountable for their actions and survivors must be heard. Enough is enough.”

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