On Friday’s episode of The Daily podcast, New York Times investigative reporter Megan Twohey spoke with Harvey Weinstein’s defense attorney, Donna Rotunno, providing a stunning glimpse into the mindset of internalized misogyny that has allowed men like Weinstein to prey on women virtually unchecked in a society that denies them their bodily autonomy.
Two years ago, in partnership with her colleague Jodi Kantor, Twohey broke the story of Weinstein’s long history as an alleged sexual predator, effectively kicking off the #MeToo conversation. Twohey and Rotunno’s conversation started off cordially enough, but quickly went off the rails.
The two discussed the defense’s insistence that Weinstein’s accusers had engaged in consensual sex with the former producer in exchange for career advancement. Rotunno’s aggressive questioning style in support of this theory has left at least one distraught accusing witness in tears, and the attorney did not hold back in her conversation with Twohey, accusing the journalist of having an “agenda” and doubling down on her belief that any woman who would agree to meet with Weinstein in a hotel room (where he often held business meetings) would and should have had an understanding that the producer wanted to have sex with them.
None of this is surprising considering that at one point, Weinstein’s defense team attempted to introduce testimony from an expert on “unwanted voluntary sex.” The judge denied the motion.
“We have created a society where women don’t have to take any responsibility for their actions,” Rotunno told Twohey when asked what reason Weinstein’s accusers would have to lie about being sexually assaulted. “We have created a society where if we say ‘believe all women’ that means we’re not supposed to question anyone at all. So there is absolutely no risk for any woman to come forward and make a claim now. Zero.”
As reductive as Rotunno’s talking points were, the truly jaw-dropping moment happened as the interview was coming to an end.
“I do have one question,” Twohey said, “which is whether or not you have ever been sexually assaulted.”
“I have not.” Rotunno said. “Because I would never let myself be put in that position.” She continued, “I’ve always made choices, from college age on, that I never drank too much. I never went home with someone I didn’t know. I just never put myself in any vulnerable circumstance. Ever.”
I was almost done interviewing Weinstein’s defense attorney when I decided to ask one more question: had she ever been sexually assaulted? “I have not,” she said at 23:50. “Because I would never put myself in that position.” Then things really heated up. https://t.co/l1ExsBCgHX— megan twohey (@mega2e) February 7, 2020
The answer left Twohey nearly speechless, as Rotunno went on to say that acquaintance rape was something entirely different from stranger rape, and that the burden rests on women to protect themselves from assault, by, for instance, “taking mace.”
“You can’t have it both ways,” said Rotunno. “We can’t have things like Tinder, where people swipe right and go meet whoever they meet and most of the time those are sexual interactions and then say ‘You know what, I went out with them, I went to their house, we were flirting, we were kissing’, and then say, ‘I had no idea that he might want to do this.’ You just can’t have it both ways.”
When asked if there was anything men could do to shoulder the burden of risk and responsibility , Rotunno stated that if she were a man about to engage in sexual intercourse with a woman she would “ask them to sign a consent form.”
It’s a ridiculous suggestion (Twohey, momentarily stunned into silence, asks Rotunno, “Are you serious?”) that reinforces the notion that women must be hyper-vigilant in all aspects of their life — what they choose to wear, how they choose to speak — while men merely have to protect themselves against “hysterical” accusations in a world that is in increasingly “a scary place for them.”
So instead of amplifying Rotunno’s divisive, and frankly insincere, talking points, let’s take a moment to remind everyone that all women have the right not to be harassed, raped, or murdered. And let’s also remember that this right applies to all women equally: poor women, women of color, trans women, sex workers, women of means, undocumented women.
In the face of Weinstein’s attempts to reframe his narrative as a kind of “war on men,” let’s remember that a woman is a victim of sexual violence in America every 73 seconds, and that nearly half of all women homicide victims are killed by a current or former intimate partner. So it doesn’t matter what they wore, how much alcohol they consumed, or whether they decided to use a dating app. Violence against women is an epidemic globally. We don’t need an edict to be “more vigilant.” We don’t need a sexual consent form. What we need is real advocacy for victims of sexual violence, which includes putting an end to the sexual trauma to prison pipeline, campus sexual assault policy reform, and the dismantling of a power structure that enables predators by silencing survivors.
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