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I was one of Harvey Weinstein's victims. This is what I think of Donna Rotunno, the female lawyer called in to defend him

When asked if she had ever been a victim of sexual assault, Rotunno replied, 'I would never put myself in that position'

Larissa Gomes
New York
Monday 24 February 2020 18:10 GMT
Harvey Weinstein accusers elated over conviction

“I would never put myself in that position” – Donna Rotunno, defense lawyer for Harvey Weinstein, on why she has never personally experienced sexual violence.

“What are we doing to women? Women have choices” — Donna Rotunno, while suggesting that the prosecution has painted a picture in which women bear no responsibility for themselves.

“The facts are the facts. Harvey Weinstein is innocent. His fate hangs in the balance, and the world is watching.” — Donna Rotunno, in an op-ed she penned for Newsweek ahead of the verdict in New York.

Harvey Weinstein groomed me. He gained my trust, took my talents seriously, then he assaulted me as if it was the most casual act in the world. The “position I put myself in” was about professional work prospects. Those moments of paralyzing fear — being trapped while figuring out the floor plan of my surroundings, how I might be able to get away, appeasing him just so I could get out safely — were nothing short of terrifying. I wanted choices in that moment. He took them from me.

When I heard my fellow survivors’ testimonies during Weinstein’s first trial in New York, I felt their pain in my bones. They had already sacrificed so much — all of us who have spoken out against him have. Our safety, privacy and livelihoods have all been affected since we came forward.

But simply denouncing Donna Rotunno’s rhetoric isn’t enough. We have to try to understand where it comes from.

What I know about Donna Rotunno is that she is a Chicago lawyer who has made a career of defending these types of cases, the types where men stand accused of sex crimes including rape and assault. She has only lost one case so far. Female lawyers are often sought out for sexual misconduct cases because the male defendants feel they will be lent more legitimacy when people see they are being defended by a woman.

There’s no denying that Rotunno has leveraged the shock factor of her own existence: By defending a man accused by so many women of sex crimes, she stands as the last obstacle between Weinstein’s accusers and jail time. She is not the obstacle you might expect. But she is the obstacle we got.

Rotunno is an established attorney in her field. She is respected by many for her success. But the arguments she made during the Weinstein case in New York are the same arguments that many others have used in the past to defend rape culture or to turn a blind eye to predatory behavior.

Rotunno will leave no stone unturned where reasonable doubt might appear; no defense lawyer would. Many are outraged that she is a woman — that she is “betraying her kind” or failing to “do her duty” and “stand up for other women” — but that’s not really the point. She displays ideas and behaviors that are normal for many in society. That is because sexual misconduct is generally accepted and normalized. Both men and women are susceptible to believing what she says she believes.

We should be less outraged about the fact that Rotunno is a woman and more outraged about her absolute detachment from the horror of sexual assault. When interviewed, Rotunno has consistently said that she has not been sexually assaulted herself because she has been responsible and careful. She appears to have little sympathy for victims. She has a surfeit of sympathy for men; she even said to the New York Times that if she were a man, she would ask all women to sign a consent form before sex. This kind of bizarre recasting of our cultural moment, where one can argue that the real victims of the MeToo movement are men, is dangerous. It is dangerous for survivors now and it is extraordinarily urgent for future generations to challenge it.

We should take every opportunity to scrutinize Rotunno’s words and actions. It is not overzealous — it is responsible, it is just and it is crucial. To fall back onto archaic rape myths even though we have learned much more about abuses of power and trauma-induced behaviors is to go backwards. It’s time to let go of the “wounded man bulldozed by the hysteria of a women’s movement” narrative that Rotunno has attempted to weave into public consciousness. When we move beyond asking who is actually buying into that, we must then ask why.

Does Rotunno suffer from internalized misogyny and unconscious biases? Possibly. Perhaps she, as a woman, has had to work twice as hard as a man to get where she is, as is the norm. Perhaps she knows that there are fewer seats at the table for women, and she fears that she might lose hers if other women rise in prominence or if she doesn’t define herself as “not like the others”. Maybe she walks around unaware of the implicit associations she holds against women until others poke her with their ire in the hopes that she recognizes them.

The simple fact is, however, that all of those who surround Harvey Weinstein are experts at cover. They are complicit in a culture which works against women. They may not realize it; they may not even mean it, but they are. We can only hope that the majority of people — all people, male or female — will look at who benefits from protecting men accused of such crimes and draw conclusions from that.

Weinstein was convicted today on one count of sexual assault and one count of rape in the third degree. He faces further charges in Los Angeles

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