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Why sex assault survivors may stay in touch with their perpetrator

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As Harvey Weinstein‘s sexual assault trial continues, his lawyers argue that because the women who have accused the movie producer maintained relationships with him after their alleged attacks, the encounters were consensual.

Weinstein, 67, is charged with raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a different woman in 2006. He has pleaded not guilty.

Since 2017, more than 90 women, including many famous actors, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. He has denied the allegations and said any sexual encounters were consensual.

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After their alleged assaults, both women at the centre of the Weinstein trial had “friendly” interactions with the disgraced producer, including emails and texts, and sexual relations with him.

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It may be hard to understand why someone would stay in contact with their alleged abuser, but experts say it is not an uncommon occurrence.

Why survivors stay in touch with perpetrators

Shana Maier, a professor of criminal justice at Widener University in Pennsylvania, said perpetrators are often known to their victims, which can make it difficult to cease all communication.

Known perpetrators, including acquaintances and romantic partners, commit approximately 82 per cent of sexual assaults, according to an Ontario government website.

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“Because victims already have had some sort of personal interaction with the abuser — [i.e. they’re] not a stranger — it is often difficult, if not impossible, to simply never have interaction with the perpetrator again,” Maier told Global News.
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“This is common also in situations where the abuser may have some degree of power over the victim.”

The woman who alleges Weinstein raped her was an aspiring actor who initially believed the producer was interested in her career. Shortly after she forged what she thought was a professional connection, she says Weinstein started to pressure her for sex before he allegedly raped her.

The woman testified she tried to make the producer her “pseudo father” after experiencing a rough upbringing. The former actor also said she sent Weinstein flattering emails and kept seeing him because “I wanted him to believe I wasn’t a threat.”

“I was afraid of his unpredictable anger,” the woman testified.

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Prosecutors in the Weinstein trial argue that he kept the women close as part of his pattern of predatory behaviour. They also argue the Hollywood producer was powerful and manipulative and that many women felt compelled to go along with his behaviour.

Maier said survivors may fear retaliation and maintain contact because they feel they have no choice. If the perpetrator has influence on their professional lives, they may fear job loss.

Other times, Maier said survivors maintain contact with perpetrators because they do not want others to know about their abuse or assault.

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“In other words, they cannot simply disappear,” she said.

Sexual assault survivors do not ‘invite’ attacks

Because sexual assault can be very traumatic, a survivor can experience a wide range of emotions, including blame, guilt and shame. The idea that someone has “done something” to “invite” or make themselves “vulnerable” to assault is a myth, Maier said, but a narrative shared by Weinstein’s lawyers.

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Weinstein’s lead lawyer, Donna Rotunno, recently told the New York Times she has never been sexually assaulted because she 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 I didn’t know, I just never put myself in any vulnerable circumstance ever,” Rotunno told the Times.

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Maier said the idea that survivors of assault cause their own “victimization” is wrong.

“Society continues to portray sexual violence victims as being at fault,” Maier said.

“This does not happen to victims of other crimes. The guilt or sense of responsibility comes from how society views victims of sexual assault.”

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Another myth is that a survivor of sexual assault will recognize their assault as such and report it right away. This is often not true, Maier said, as someone may have “difficulty conceptualizing the incident as sexual violence at first.”

Research shows it can take time for people to comprehend what has happened to them, meaning they may not come forward or report sexual assault for years. In the interim, survivors may communicate with their perpetrators.

What’s more, research shows fewer than one in 10 survivors report their assault to police.

During cross-examination on Feb. 4, the woman who alleges Weinstein raped her in 2013 addressed her relationship with him.

Weinstein’s lawyers finished an exhaustive review of friendly, sometimes flirtatious emails she sent the film producer after the alleged attack.

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“I know the history of my relationship with him,” the accuser pushed back.

“I know it was complicated and difficult. But that doesn’t change the fact that he raped me.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.

— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters 

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca