Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer just placed the burden of not being assaulted on victims, and that’s unacceptable

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Jessica Rapana
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In an interview with journalist and She Said co-author Meghan Twohey, Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno said she had “never put herself in a vulnerable circumstance”, and at Stylist, we are not here for victim-blaming.

Megan Twohey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who helped break the Harvey Weinstein story that sparked a global #MeToo movement, couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Twohey was speaking to Weinstein’s attorney Donna Rotunno, who has defended more than 40 men in sex crimes trials (and famously, only ever lost once), on The Daily, a podcast for The New York Times. Shed asked her whether she had ever been sexually assaulted, and Rotunno’s response, it’s fair to say, shocked us as much as it did Twohey.

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Earlier in the podcast, Rotunno had insisted that the US criminal system favoured victims and pointed to the toll these allegations often took on the men accused, both physically and financially.

At one point, Rotunno seemed to suggest that victims shared some of the blame for their attack, arguing women needed to start taking on “equal risk”. Rotunno told Twohey: “Women cannot be equal if women don’t start taking on equal risk.”

“When you’re put in circumstances that are questionable or negative or you don’t want to be in or you think this is the only way that I’m going to get the job, we know that that’s ridiculous,” she said. “We know that if women stand up and say ‘I’m not going to take this’; I’m not going to do this, you have other options.”

Speaking to the specifics of Weinstein’s case, she added: “If you are asked to go to an event for the Oscars and then you are asked at midnight to come up and see a script, at some point, the radar has to go off.”

However, as Twohey herself later pointed out on Twitter, things really started to kick off near the end of the interview, when she asked Rotunno whether she had ever been sexually assaulted.

“I have not,” Rotunno said. “Because I would never put myself in that position.” When Twohey asked her whether she meant she had never been sexually assaulted because she had never allowed herself to be sexually assaulted, Rotunno said: “No, I have always made choices from college-age on where I never drank too much; I never went home with someone I didn’t know; I never put myself in a vulnerable circumstance.”

Yes, you read that right. Rotunno thinks she hasn’t been attacked because she’s never put herself “in a vulnerable circumstance”. Read another way, she’s implying that women who are attacked have put themselves in a position do to so.

Harvey Weinstein leaving court

Weinstein arriving at court during his New York trial.

Twohey clearly saw the flaw in Rotunno’s logic, asking her whether someone who is pulled into a dark alleyway was then to blame. Rotunno delineated between these victims and the women who, like Weinstein’s alleged victims, were attacked by a man they knew. 

“You make a choice to go into their home at the end of the night, what do you think could potentially happen?” Rotunno said. “If you’re not prepared, I think we’re kidding ourselves, and then to leave and say I had no idea that this person would maybe try to be sexual with me or have a sexual advance I think is naive.”

jodi kantor megan twohey

New York Times journalist Megan Twohey (right) won the Pultizer Prize for her investigation into Harvey Weinstein with Jodi Kantor (left).

When Twohey pushed back on this logic, suggesting that Rotunno was continuing to place the burden of safety on women and potential victims in general. Rotunno said the burden of risk “should rest equally”. 

“I’m saying women need to be very clear about their intentions,” she said. “I think women need to be very prepared for the circumstances they put themselves in, and I think absolutely women should take on equal risk that men are taking on. And the responsibility should be equal as well.”

She added that, if she were a man in today’s world, before she engaged in any sexual behaviour with any women, she would ask them to sign a consent form first. “I’m being dead serious,” she said. “Because how easy is it for two people to engage in behaviour and a day later, two days later, five days later, 27 years later, somebody says ‘you know what, that’s not what that was’? Why not take all the of the question out of it and make it easier on everybody?”

The silence from Twohey spoke volumes. Rotunno appears to be saying that women can choose not to be victims of sexual assault by not making themselves “vulnerable”, whatever that means, which sounds a lot like victim-blaming to us.

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Jessica Rapana

Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.

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