An Open Letter to Harvey Weinstein’s Lawyer
Like the plot twist of a sadistic rom-com, twelve jurors spent Valentine’s Day listening to closing statements for Harvey Weinstein’s criminal charges of rape and sexual assault. Weinstein’s defense lawyer, Donna Rotunno, asserted that the trial effectively revokes all agency from women. Earlier in the week, Rotunno alleged that the prosecutors “have created a universe that strips adult women of common sense, autonomy and responsibility. It is offensive, actually.”
Nearly two weeks ago in an interview with Insider, Rotunno described her mother and grandmother as being subservient to no one. “These are women who never made excuses […] Women who said, ‘I can do anything.’”
But it was last week’s interview with New York Times reporter Megan Twohey that Twitter erupted over and a new #MeToo wave crested the horizon. In a last minute follow up question, Twohey asked “actually I had another question, which was whether or not you’ve been sexually assaulted.” Rotunno responded “I have not. Because I would never put myself in that position. […] I’ve always made choices, from college age on, where I never drank too much, I never went home with someone that I didn’t know. I just never put myself in any vulnerable circumstance ever.”
Never mind the question’s inherent misogyny. That if Weinstein’s lawyer was a man, he never would be asked if he had been raped. For now, I am interested in Rotunno’s conviction that not being the victim of sexual assault comes down to a simple set of choices. I want to understand how she defines “choice”. Because I have been raped. I have male and female friends who have been raped. I am not a lawyer, and I would love Rotunno’s legal counsel on how exactly not being raped is a choice. She makes it sound so easy! I wonder, where exactly did I choose wrong?
Rotunno has garnered a reputation for criticizing the cultural behemoth that is the #MeToo movement. Admonishing women for embracing the infantilizing nature of victimhood, she calls herself an “ultimate feminist” who believes that women should make better choices. She argued in a January interview with NPR “I think that women need to be heard, which is different than women needing to be believed.” But as a self-prescribed person who has never experienced sexual assault, of course it is easy for her to parse apart the semantic differences of “belief” v. “listening”. Of course it is easy to see a legal chasm distancing the two words, that is, from the standpoint of an individual who has always been protected by the criminal justice system and has never been wrongfully punished or traumatized by a legal system illy structured to protect victims in the first place. In other words, having never been a victim herself, I can’t blame Rotunno for misunderstanding the intricate ways in which listening is entangled with belief. Believing that it is possible for the most horrendous things to happen to some unlucky people, through no fault of their own choices, is synonymous with listening to an account of the events. I am grateful that Rotunno has never been victimized. I wish that this could be true for all of us. Otherwise it would likely render her work upholding a system that is institutionally constructed to uphold the most powerful and wealthy impossible, much like the women whose careers Weinstein systematically destroyed. Rotunno’s assertion that the women who Harvey Weinstein attacked could have made better choices balances precariously upon the vantage of a person who has, by her own description, had better choices from which to choose.
In her interview with Insider, Rotunno states that “our justice system has decided that just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s true. This notion of people saying ‘this is my truth.’ Well, there’s no such thing. There’s no such thing as your truth or my truth. There’s the truth. And my job is to get to whatever it is.”
If only everyone’s experience with the justice system could be so simple as Rotunno’s.
Dear Donna Rotunno,
My father raped, molested and trafficked me to pedophiles until I was 10 years old. Please, in your legal opinion, what should I have done to prevent being in that position?
Later, when I was a homeless teenager, sleeping in the top bunk of a youth shelter, another girl raped me with a dildo. I kicked her off, thrashing my legs at the tangle of thin homeless shelter sheets. She fell back with a thud. I worried that she had hit her head, falling six feet to the hard floor. I heard the other girls in the shelter stir in their sleep, grumbling lucidly. Holding my breath, I hoped that I hadn’t wakened them. With my legs clenched together tight, I stayed awake the rest of the night, terrified that she would climb the ladder to rape me again or might try to rape another girl before the 6am wake up call. “You’re such a tease,” she whispered in my ear hours later as I collected my possessions from a locker. A toothbrush, a notebook, a dry pair of socks from the church that only gave street kids food and shelter if you agreed to watch Veggie Tales, a computer animated TV show horror in which a cucumber and his vegetable farm friends vegetables reenact Bible stories. I thrust the last of my belongings into a backpack and bounded down the stairs to the rainy street below, unsure of where I would sleep that night. I had let my guard down at the shelter. I had thought I was making a safe choice to sleep indoors at night. But it now felt less safe than searching for a sidewalk alcove to hide in that night or the risk of security catching me when I posed as a tired college student, up late studying in the library.
Donna — may I call you by your first name? I mean, after all, we are talking about very intimate violence. In your legal opinion, what choice do you recommend I should have made to prevent being in those situations? Should I have asked for different parents? Should I have chosen not to be poor? Not to have been a homeless teenager starting at age 14? And also, how exactly does one choose not to be homeless?
I believe that your logic is sorely lacking on this. But I am not a lawyer. I would like to understand what choices you believe I made to put myself in that position.
Thank you for your time. I am no longer poor, homeless, or the child of a pedophile-trafficker, so feel free to bill me for the time it takes you to respond with legal advice regarding choice.