“Rapes are not what we see on TV,” Dr. Barbara Ziv told the jury during Harvey Weinstein’s trial in Los Angeles, when she was called by the prosecution on Tuesday to testify about “rape myths” — in other words, debunking common-held societal 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 behaviors of rape victims are “counterintuitive.”
Ziv is a forensic psychiatrist and licensed physician who specializes in all aspects of sexual assault, assessing behaviors 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 affiliation to the Weinstein case and has not worked with any of the Jane Does who allege they are victims of Weinstein’s 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 defense 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 … Those are broad generalizations about conduct,” Jackson said, to which Ziv replied, “I came here to educate what the truth is about sexual assault.”
Ziv was called on by the prosecution as an expert to bolster their case. It’s expected that later in the trial, the defense will also call on a doctor or medical expert to weigh in on memory loss and other issues that would present the jury with a different perspective than Ziv’s studies and psychiatric work.
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 — such as the day, time, what their perpetrator was wearing, etc. — could be lost over the years.
“If people don’t report promptly, they say they don’t remember years later,” Ziv said. “It’s not that they’re lying … people try to give their best … they are trying to remember.”
Ziv explained that while police sometimes use those “memory problems” to say a victim is not credible, that is changing as the understanding of rape victims has progressed in recent years.
As part of her presentation, Ziv broke down “rape myths,” telling the jury that most 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 assaults are usually by strangers, Ziv said. “Most people are raped by somebody who is known to them,” she told the jury. She explained that while “stranger rapes” do occur, most sexual assaults involved people who know each other in some capacity, unlike the representation commonly seen in television and film.
Victims of sexual assault do not resist their assailants, despite most people believing they would fight back, the psychiatrist told jurors. “Most individuals do not resist,” Ziv said. “Even aggressive verbal shouting and screaming is not as common as we may think. … This is counterintuitive. You’d think if you’re being violated, you’d fight back.” She added, “The bottom line is, that’s not the case.”
During cross-examination, Jackson asked Ziv if “some do fight back.” She responded, “Some,” and then continued, “Do some women fight back? Sure. The myth is that it’s common.” Jackson then asked, “Some do scream and yell and holler?” Ziv replied the same way, responding, “Some.”
Ziv told jurors that sexual assault victims do not typically report promptly, despite most people believing they would go to the police if they were assaulted.
“Sexual assault is an underreported crime,” Ziv said. “Even when it is reported, it is prosecuted very rarely.”
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 at all is also common. Ziv said there is a “large percentage [that] never tell anyone in their life.” The feeling of “shame” is a reason why many victims do not talk about their attack, she said, but there are many reasons why victims don’t speak up. “It’s a very difficult subject to discuss.” The psychiatrist added, “They fear the response … 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 following an assault, whether it be happy or sad, does not indicate whether or not they have been assaulted. “Behavior after sexual assault is variable,” she said. “You cannot tell whether an individual has been sexually assaulted based on the aftermath of their behavior.”
Victims of sexual assault often have continued contact with their perpetrator after the attack, Ziv explained, noting that the common belief is that a victim of rape would never see or talk to their rapist ever again. She testified that most people do see their perpetrator again, and might willingly continue to communicate with them for a variety of reasons.
“People work in the same circle,” she suggested, explaining that victims may not want peers to find out what happened. “It is a really humiliating experience to be sexually assaulted by someone who is known to you.”
A reason victims of sexual assault may speak to their perpetrator after is because “they want to make sense of it” or they want an apology. Very often, continued contact occurs because victims fear retaliation and “collateral damage,” Ziv said, especially when a perpetrator is in a position of power. “When a perpetrator damages other aspects of your life … those things affect your trajectory forever.”
Ziv also told the jury that it is common for sexual assault victims to have consensual sex with their attacker later on. “A lot of times people feel like they are just damaged goods, and nobody else is going to want them so they begin to act like damaged goods.”
Jackson challenged Ziv, asking, “Some do avoid their attacker at all costs?”
“Yes,” she responded.
And when he asked, “Some do go to the police immediately?” She responded, “Some.”
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