“Rape is not what we see on TV,” Dr. Barbara Ziff told the jury during Harvey Weinstein’s trial in Los Angeles when she was called by the prosecution to testify about the “rape myth” — in other words In other words, debunk common-held social beliefs about rape and sexual assault.
“Most of what people think is inaccurate or unsupported by facts,” Ziff told the jury that the rape victim’s actions were “counterintuitive.”
Ziv is a forensic psychiatrist and medical practitioner specializing in all aspects of sexual assault, assessing the behavior of both victims and perpetrators. During her decades-long medical career, she has worked with more than a thousand sexual assault victims, but has nothing to do with the Weinstein case, nor with any Jane Douse who has claimed to be a victim of Weinstein abuse Pass.
Ziv testified as an expert in Weinstein’s first criminal trial in New York City in 2020 and Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania in 2018.
Ziv was in the stands for hours. After her statement to the jury, Weinstein’s defense attorney Alan Jackson cross-examined Ziv at length, focusing on the differences between the legal and medical definitions of rape and consent.
“You testify against rape myths … these are broad generalizations about behavior,” Jackson said, to which Ziv responded, “I’m here to educate what the truth about sexual assault is.”
Prosecutors asked Ziff to support their case as an expert. Later in the trial, the defense is also expected to ask doctors or medical experts to weigh in on memory loss and other issues that would give the jury a different perspective than Ziv’s research and psychiatry work.
Ziv explained to jurors that memory is complex and that victims of sexual assault retain memories of the “central trauma” forever, but that the smaller details of the attack — such as the date, time, what the abuser was wearing, etc. — may lost over the years.
“If people don’t report it in time, they’ll say they don’t remember it years later,” Ziff 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 these “memory problems” to signal that victims are not trustworthy, this is changing as the understanding of rape victims has evolved in recent years.
As part of her speech, Ziv busted “rape myths”, telling the jury that most of what the public does about rape victims is untrue, according to a psychiatrist who specializes in sexual assault.
Rape often occurs between people who know each other, Ziv said, although most believe the attacks are usually carried out by strangers. “Most people were raped by people they knew,” she told the jury. She explained that while “stranger rape” does happen, most sexual assaults involve people who know each other in some capacity, unlike the usual representation on TV and movies.
Psychiatrists told jurors that victims of sexual assault would not fight back against their attackers, although most thought they would fight back. “Most people don’t resist,” Ziff said. “Even aggressive verbal shouting and screaming is not as common as we thought. … It’s counterintuitive. You think if you’re being violated, you’re going to fight back.” She added, “The most Importantly, this is not the case.”
During cross-examination, Jackson asked Ziff if “some people will fight back.” She replied, “Some,” and continued, “Do some women fight back? Of course. The myth is that it’s common.” Jackson then asked, “Do some people scream, yell?” The way to answer, “Some.”
Sexual assault victims often don’t report in time, Ziv told jurors, although most believe they’ll call the police if they’re attacked.
“Sexual assault is an underrated crime,” Ziff said. “Even if they are reported, they are rarely prosecuted.”
She explained that when a victim does report an attack, it’s usually not to the authorities, but possibly to a friend or family member – but it’s also common to never say anything. Ziv says there is “a large part of [that] Never tell anyone in their life. Feelings of “shame” are one reason many victims don’t talk about their attacks, but there are many reasons why victims don’t, she said. “It’s a very difficult topic to discuss.” The psychiatrist added, “They are afraid of responding…invading their private lives…afraid of being classified as promiscuous or liars.” “
Ziv told the jury that sexual assault victims’ behavior after being assaulted, whether happy or sad, did not indicate whether they were assaulted. “Behaviour after sexual assault is variable,” she said. “You can’t tell whether an individual has been sexually assaulted based on the consequences of their actions.”
Victims of sexual assault often stay in touch with their perpetrators after the attack, Ziv explained, noting the common belief is that victims of rape will never see or talk to their rapist again. She testified that most people do see their perpetrators again and may be willing to continue communicating with them for a variety of reasons.
“People work in the same circle,” she advises, explaining that victims probably don’t want their peers to know what’s going on. “It’s a very humiliating experience to be sexually assaulted by someone you know.”
One reason sexual assault victims might talk to their abuser afterwards is “they want to understand it” or that they want an apology. Ziff said ongoing contact often occurs because victims fear retaliation and “collateral damage,” especially when the perpetrator is in a position of power. “When perpetrators damage other areas of your life… those things affect your trajectory forever.”
Ziv also told the jury that it was common for sexual assault victims to later have consensual sex with their attackers. “A lot of times people feel like they’re just damaged cargo and nobody else wants them, so they start acting like damaged cargo.”
Jackson challenged Ziv, asking: “Some people do avoid their attackers at all costs?”
“Yes,” she replied.
When he asked, “Are some people going to call the police right away?” she replied, “Some.”