Weinstein Trial: Expert Testifies About Rape Victim Behaviors

“Rape is not what we see on TV,” said Dr. Barbara Ziv told the jury at Harvey Weinstein’s trial in Los Angeles, when she was called by the prosecution on Tuesday to testify about “rape myths” – in other words, the revelation of common beliefs about rape and sexual assault.

“Most of the things people believe are not accurate or supported by facts,” Ziv said, telling the jury that behavior of rape victims was “counterintuitive”.

Ziv is a forensic psychiatrist and licensed physician specializing in all aspects of sexual assault, assessing the behavior of both victims and perpetrators. Over the course of her decades-long medical career, she has worked with more than a thousand victims of sexual assault, but has no connection to the Weinstein case and has not worked with any of the Jane Does who claim to be victims of Weinstein’s not abuse. .

Ziv testified as an expert in Weinstein’s first criminal trial in New York City in 2020, as well as Bill Cosby’s 2018 sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania.

Ziv was on the stand for hours. After her presentation to the jury, Weinstein’s attorney, Alan Jackson, cross-examined Ziv at length, focusing on the difference between the legal and medical definitions of rape and consent.

“You testified about rape myths … These are broad generalizations about behavior,” Jackson said, to which Ziv replied, “I came here to learn the truth about sexual assault.”

Ziv was called by the prosecutor as an expert to strengthen their case. The defense is also expected to bring in a doctor or medical expert later in the trial to weigh in on memory loss and other issues that would provide the jury with a different perspective than Ziv’s studies and psychiatric work.

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Memory is complicated, Ziv explained to jurors, and victims of sexual assault hold onto memories of “central trauma” forever, but smaller details of the attack — like the day, time, what their perpetrator was wearing, etc. – can be lost over the years.

“If people don’t report right away, they say they don’t remember years later,” Ziv said. “It’s not that they’re lying … people are trying to do their best … they’re trying to remember.”

Ziv explained that while police sometimes use those “memory problems” to say a victim isn’t credible, that’s changing as the understanding of rape victims has advanced in recent years.

As part of her presentation, Ziv debunked “rape myths” and told the jury that most of the behaviors the general public would assume of rape victims are untrue, according to psychiatrists who specialize in sexual assault.

Rapes often occur among people who know each other, despite most people believing that assaults are usually by strangers, Ziv said. “Most people are raped by someone they know,” she told the jury. She explained that while “stranger rapes” do occur, most sexual assaults involve people who know each other in some capacity, unlike the portrayal commonly seen in television and film.

Victims of sexual assault do not fight back against their attackers, despite most people believing they would fight back, the psychiatrist told jurors. “Most individuals don’t resist,” Ziv said. “Even aggressive verbal yelling and screaming is not as common as we might think. … This is counterintuitive. You would think if you were violated, you would fight back.” She added: “The bottom line is that it is not.”

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During cross-examination, Jackson asked Ziv if “some do fight back”. She replied, “Some,” then continued, “Do some women complain back? Sure. The myth is that it’s common.” Jackson then asked, “Some yelling and yelling and yelling?” Ziv responded in kind, replying, “Some.”

Ziv told jurors that victims of sexual assault usually do not report it immediately, although most people believe they will go to the police if they are assaulted.

“Sexual assault is an underreported crime,” Ziv said. “Even when it is reported, it is very rarely prosecuted.”

She explained that when victims do report an assault, it’s often not to authorities, but perhaps to a friend or family member — but never saying anything is also common. Ziv said there is a “large percentage [that] never tell anyone in their life.” The feeling of “shame” is one reason many victims don’t talk about their assault, she said, but there are many reasons why victims don’t talk. “It’s a very difficult subject to discuss.” The psychiatrist added, “They fear the reaction…intrusion into their private life…fear of being categorized as promiscuous or a liar.”

Ziv told the jury that the demeanor of a sexual assault victim after an assault, whether happy or sad, does not indicate whether or not they were assaulted. “Behavior after sexual assault is variable,” she said. “You can’t tell if an individual has been sexually assaulted based on the aftermath of their behavior.”

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Victims of sexual assault often have continued contact with their perpetrator after the attack, Ziv explained, noting that the common belief is that a rape victim will never see or speak to their rapist again. She testified that most people do see their abuser again, and for various reasons may willingly continue to communicate with them.

“People operate in the same circle,” she suggested, explaining that victims may not want peers to find out what happened. “It’s a really humiliating experience to be sexually assaulted by someone you know.”

A reason why victims of sexual assault may talk to their perpetrator afterward is because “they want to make sense of it” or they want to apologize. Very often, continued contact occurs because victims fear retaliation and “collateral damage,” Ziv said, especially when an offender is in a position of power. “When an offender damages other aspects of your life…those things affect your trajectory forever.”

Ziv also told the jury that it is common for victims of sexual assault to later have consensual sex with their attacker. “A lot of times people feel like they’re just damaged goods, and nobody else is going to want them, so they start acting like damaged goods.”

Jackson challenged Ziv, asking, “Some avoid their attacker at all costs?”

“Yes,” she replied.

And when he asked, “Some go to the police right away?” She replied, “Some.”


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