Rape, sexual harassment, various forms of sexism are all wrong and have rightly been condemned. But are any of the women ever guilty? Do women ever lie? Do women make things up that aren’t true? Have the effects of the fall missed all females? Donna Rotunno, Harvey Weinstein’s lead defense attorney, has built her career defending men accused of rape. So far, she’s lost only a single case.
Not long after the star witness in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial testified about a traumatizing sexual encounter with the Hollywood producer and another woman, defense attorney Donna Rotunno approached the lectern for her cross-examination. She presented the accuser, Jessica Mann, a 34-year-old hairstylist, with copies of an unpublished blog post that prosecutors recovered from her phone.
“You told the jury the threesome was horrifying because it was something you didn’t want to do,” Rotunno said. “I would like you to read the note from your phone to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”
“Do I have to?” Mann asked, turning her head toward Justice James Burke. “Yes,” Rotunno said.
After a long pause, Mann began reading the years-old post, describing a threesome with an unnamed “older man” and an Italian woman, seemingly the same one she mentioned in her testimony.
It was pretty graphic, so I will paraphrase. It is loaded with jokes, expletives, and erotic descriptions of the woman’s body. The written version characterized the encounter as exciting, not upsetting. At one point it compared Jessica Mann to a “14-year-old boy about to lose his virginity.”
Mann tried to wiggle out of the obvious. She said she wrote the post only because she “wanted to reframe it for comedy.” But Rotunno wouldn’t let up. She pelted Mann with so many questions and accusations with such force that at one point Mann had to ask her to slow down.
In addition to fighting for Weinstein’s acquittal, Rotunno is waging a broader crusade against both the #MeToo movement and a culture she believes infantilizes women and rewards victimhood. She rejoices in the anger she provokes and calls herself the “ultimate feminist,” though she’s representing one of the most notorious alleged sexual predators in America.
“Our justice system has decided that just because someone says something and accuses someone that means it’s true,” Rotunno said. Her job is not to absolve Weinstein of the roughly 100 allegations that have flooded in since 2017. The criminal case has been whittled down to two accusers. But Rotunno knows she has the weight of an entire cultural movement working against her client, and that the jury may feel pressure to convict him.
“The problem with women today,” Rotunno said in an interview with Insider, “is that they don’t take responsibility for their decisions.” But it’s women today, Rotunno said, who have refused to be responsible. “Everybody says, ‘Oh, are you telling women that if they go to hotel rooms they deserve to be raped?’” “No,” Rotunno said. “What I am saying is that after having drinks and being at a party and sitting in a bar with somebody and going to their hotel at midnight, don’t be so ridiculous as to say, ‘I thought I was going to see a script.’ At some point they have to ask, Where is the responsibility?”
To modern feminists and Weinstein’s accusers, Rotunno’s questions smack of victim blaming. The experts and victims with whom interviewers spoke balked at Rotunno’s views. One gender-studies professor argued that her ideology fails to account for the power imbalance between many women and the predatory men in their lives. But Rotunno has scoffed at that supposed imbalance and grown irate in court when the prosecution has accused her of victim blaming. At one recent hearing, Rotunno said it was “insulting” to suggest that women can’t make their own decisions.