“Rape is not what we see on TV,” Dr. Barbara Ziv told the jury during Harvey Weinstein’s trial in Los Angeles when prosecutors called her Tuesday to testify about “rape myths” — in other words, debunking common societal beliefs about rape and sexual assault.
“Most of the things people believe are not accurate or supported by the facts,” Ziv said, telling the jury that the behavior of rape victims was “counterintuitive.”
Ziv is a licensed forensic psychiatrist and physician who specializes in all aspects of sexual assault, evaluating the behavior of both victims and perpetrators. She has worked with more than a thousand sexual assault victims in her decades-long medical career, but is not connected to the Weinstein case and has not worked with any of the Jane Does who claim to be victims of Weinstein’s abuse. .
Ziv testified as an expert in Weinstein’s first criminal trial in New York in 2020, as well as in Bill Cosby’s 2018 sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania.
Ziv was on the stand for several 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 … These are broad generalizations about behavior,” Jackson said, to which Ziv replied, “I came here to find out what the truth is about sexual assault.”
Ziv was called by the prosecution as an expert to strengthen their case. Later in the trial, the defense is also expected to call a doctor or medical expert to weigh in on the memory loss and other issues, which would present a different perspective to the jury than Ziv’s studies and psychiatric work.
Memory is complex, Ziv explained to jurors, and victims of sexual assault retain memories of the “core trauma” forever, but the smaller details of the attack — such as the day, time, what the perpetrator was wearing, etc. – they can get 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 their best … they’re trying to remember.”
Ziv explained that while police sometimes use these “memory issues” to say the victim isn’t credible, that’s changing as understanding of rape victims has advanced in recent years.
As part of her presentation, Ziv dispelled “rape myths” and told the jury that most of the behaviors the general public would assume about rape victims are not true, according to psychiatrists who specialize in sexual assault.
Rapes often happen between people who know each other, despite the fact that most people believe that the attacks are usually carried out by strangers, Ziv said. “Most people are raped by someone they know,” 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 portrayal we usually see on TV and film.
Sexual assault victims do not fight back against their attackers, even though most people believe they will, a psychiatrist told jurors. “Most individuals don’t resist,” Ziv said. “Also, aggressive verbal shouting and screaming is not as common as it might seem. … This is counterintuitive. You’d think you’d fight back if you’re being abused.” She added: “The point is, that’s not the case.”
During cross-examination, Jackson asked Ziv if “some are fighting back.” She replied, “Some,” and then continued, “Do some women fight? of course. It’s a myth that it’s normal.” Jackson then asked, “Some scream and holler and holler?” Ziv responded in kind, replying, “Something.”
Ziv told jurors that victims of sexual assault usually don’t come forward immediately, even though most people believe 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 very rarely prosecuted.”
She explained that when victims do report an assault, they often don’t report it to the authorities, but perhaps to a friend or family member – but it’s also common to never say anything. Ziv said that “a large percentage [that] never tell anyone in your life.” A feeling of “shame” is why many victims don’t speak up about their assault, 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 a backlash … an invasion of their private life … a fear of being labeled promiscuous or a liar.”
Ziv told the jury that a sexual assault victim’s demeanor after the assault, whether happy or sad, is not indicative of whether or not she was assaulted. “Behavior after sexual assault is variable,” she said. “You cannot determine whether an individual has been sexually abused based on the consequences of their behavior.”
Victims of sexual assault often remain in contact with the perpetrator after the attack, Ziv explained, noting that it is widely believed that a rape victim will never see or speak to her rapist again. She testified that most people see their perpetrator again and would like to continue communicating with them for various reasons.
“People work in the same circle,” she suggested, explaining that victims may not want their peers to know what happened. “It’s a really humbling experience to be sexually assaulted by someone you know.”
The reason sexual assault victims may talk to their perpetrator is because they “want to understand” or they want an apology. Very often, further contact occurs because victims fear retaliation and “collateral damage,” Ziv said, especially when the perpetrator is in a position of power. “When a perpetrator damages other aspects of your life…those things affect your path 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 no one else is going to want them, so they start acting like damaged goods.”
Jackson challenged Ziv and asked, “Some avoid the attacker at all costs?”
“Yes,” she replied.
And when he asked, “Some go straight to the police?” She replied, “Something.”