Harvey Weinstein’s defense team recently cross-examined Jessica Mann, who accused Weinstein of raping her in 2013. Weinstein was a prominent film director in Hollywood before multiple women accused him of sexual assault. In the trial, Weinstein’s defense pointed to a friendly email correspondence between Weinstein and Mann after the alleged assault, suggesting these amicable exchanges contradict Mann’s accusations. This line of questioning is outdated and insulting to survivors of sexual assault. Responses to an alleged assault do not determine the issue of consent, which is the only issue that should be discussed.
During the trial, Mann testified to Weinstein’s alleged assault and the prosecution built their case on her foundational testimony. However, under cross-examination, Weinstein’s defense accused Mann of lying based on the friendly email correspondence between them.
“You sent him emails telling him how wonderful he was. You sent him emails thanking him. You sent him emails asking for things,” said Donna Rotunno, Weinstein’s attorney. Mann responded that the emails were about “just keeping him happy.”
Mann’s answer to Rotunno contextualizes the alleged assault and the following emails within the framework of a toxic relationship. At the time of the alleged assault, Mann was an aspiring actress hoping a connection with Weinstein would help launch her career. Under this context, Weinstein held a position of power and Mann said these emails “telling him how wonderful he was” and “emails thanking him” after the alleged assault, could be expected.
Mann’s own descriptions of her relationship with Weinstein reinforce a power dynamic. In 2014, Mann wrote to an ex-boyfriend, “I tried to make him a pseudo father,” commenting on her connection with Weinstein. With Weinstein assuming both the roles of father and mentor, it would be unsurprising if Mann attempted to appease him even after the alleged incident.
Furthermore, the assumptions behind this line of questioning are detrimental to survivors of sexual assault. The questions suggest that a victim’s reaction or prior relationship with an alleged rapist affects the nature of consent. Weinstein’s defense attempted to cast doubt on Mann’s testimony by revealing what could be viewed as Mann’s inconsistent behavior. However, behavior after trauma can be complex.
According to researchers, “How an event affects an individual depends on many factors, including characteristics of the individual, the type and characteristics of the event(s), developmental processes, the meaning of the trauma and sociocultural factors.”
By assuming that Mann’s behaviors are abnormal, this traumatic experience is reduced to a predictable event, during which a victim’s responses determine the validity of their claims.
Ultimately, the question of rape should never include prior sexual encounters or future sexual encounters. Consent in certain contexts does not determine a blanket of consent to all other sexual encounters. It is time to stop accusing victims of reacting inappropriately to trauma in order to delegitimize their experiences. Mann’s complex relationship with Weinstein does not determine the validity of her claims or undermine the truth of her testimony.
Emily Anderson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.