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The criminal rape trial against Harvey Weinstein is nearing its end — the jury has begun deliberations to decide whether the former media mogul is guilty of five counts of felony sex crimes.
During the trial, Manhattan prosecutors alleged that Weinstein had a pattern of “grooming” his victims — gaining their trust and dangling career opportunities before violently sexually assaulting or raping them.
Forensic psychologists and legal experts say such a modus operandi is akin to that of child sexual abusers.
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Harvey Weinstein seemed harmless. That’s how many of Weinstein’s accusers viewed the movie producer for months and even years of their relationship with him — and it’s exactly how Manhattan prosecutors say he preyed on women for decades.
“Different women, decades apart, same crime,” New York Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast told jurors during Weinstein’s New York rape trial. “The man seated right there was not just a titan of Hollywood. He was a rapist, sexually assaulting these women when they refused to comply with his desires and his orders and using his power and prestige in entertainment to ensure their silence.”
Prosecutors claimed the media mogul had a pattern of abuse, regularly earning his victims’ trust and dangling career opportunities before violently sexually assaulting or raping them.
But another alarming parallel that psychology and legal experts have noticed in the modus operandi described by prosecutors is its similarities to a method often used by child sexual abusers called “grooming.”
“Although the specifics are different, the psychological and behavioral dynamics at play among the perpetrators and victims are virtually identical,” Paul Mones, a sexual-abuse attorney, wrote in an op-ed article for the Los Angeles Times.
Experts and victims say Weinstein ‘groomed’ them
The harrowing stories of Weinstein’s accusers, including the six women who testified at his criminal trial, bear striking similarities to one another, which prosecutors say displayed a pattern of abuse.
Prosecutors alleged Weinstein targeted a certain type of women: those he worked with or could offer work to as leverage. They claimed he even “tested” women to evaluate whether they could be manipulated.
The actress Ashley Judd, who did not testify in the trial but was one of the first women to come forward with misconduct allegations against Weinstein, has used the term “groomed” to describe his behavior.
“It went on in these stages,” Judd told Variety in 2015 in an article in which she did not name Weinstein. “It was so disgusting.”
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According to Ziv Cohen, a forensic and clinical psychiatrist and assistant professor at Cornell, grooming is a method in which child sexual abusers gain the trust of children to ask them to engage in certain acts.
Mones, who has represented sexual-abuse victims from the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America, added that abusers slowly push the boundaries of what is acceptable until they commit “extreme acts,” typically of sexual nature.
“The only way that perpetrators accomplish sexual assault is by slowly but surely introducing the person to nonoffensive behavior,” Mones told Insider.
Judd and many other Weinstein accusers have said this came in the form of increasingly inappropriate requests. Judd, who told Variety she was sexually harassed by Weinstein when filming “Kiss the Girls” in the late 1990s, said Weinstein began by asking her to meet him at his hotel to eat, then “lured” her in his hotel room by asking her to help him pick out what to wear — eventually, she said, he requested she watch him take a shower.
While grooming is typically used in cases related to child abuse, Cohen, who consults on high-profile criminal cases in New York, including sexual-assault cases, says the pattern of manipulation described by Weinstein’s accusers echoes that used by child sexual predators to curry favor with a potential victim.
“The similarity is that there is an aspect of gaining trust,” Cohen told Insider. “He was allegedly trying to get the trust of these women, he developed friendships with them.”
Mones described the tactics detailed in Weinstein’s trial as “more of a shock-and-awe approach — the unbelted robe at the business meeting.”
Araya Diaz/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company
Both Mones and Cohen also noted the use of what one female former Weinstein executive called a “honeypot” of female assistants to provide victims a false sense of security when being escorted to visit the former movie producer at his hotel.
“The whole idea of the proverbial casting couch also adds to the problem of women in positions like that, and really thinking it’s anything unusual,” Mones tells Insider. “Well, this is what’s supposed to happen, you know.”
Cohen emphasizes that the clear difference between grooming in children and adults is their level of autonomy in the abuse and the power differentials. Though Weinstein’s accusers were all adults, Mones argued that Weinstein wielded his power in the entertainment industry to manipulate women into engaging in acts that would be inappropriate in a professional setting in exchange for movie roles or job opportunities.
“There was a lot that happened between the point of entry and the bargaining,” Judd told Variety. “When I kept saying no to everything, there was a huge asymmetry of power and control in that room.”
Groomed victims often respond counterintuitively to abuse
The actress Miriam “Mimi” Haleyi, a witness in the New York trial, testified that after Weinstein asked her for a massage during a business meeting, a Weinstein employee soon reached out to her offering work on “Project Runway.”
She accepted and continued a friendly working relationship with Weinstein, sending him pitch ideas even after the time she says she was sexually assaulted — a point that has confused many and has been highlighted by Weinstein’s defense.
“She doesn’t mention to the world that she pitched TV shows to him, met him at the Cannes Film Festival, because it’s ‘her truth,'” Weinstein’s defense attorney Damon Cheronis told jurors. “You’re here to get to the truth.”
Victims of grooming, however, often respond to abuse in ways that are counterintuitive to their safety, Mones said. Victims often continue a relationship with their abuser in denial that anything wrong has taken place because of their friendship with the predator.
“Both groups of victims react in remarkably similar ways to their treatment and exploitation,” Mones wrote in his LA Times op-ed article. “In the vast majority of these situations, victims do not react by physically or verbally resisting the offender, reporting the offender, or even fleeing at first touch. Rather, victims become psychologically and emotionally paralyzed, overwhelmed by a combination of fear, self-blame, embarrassment, and confusion.”
Associated Press/Richard Drew
Beyond victims of grooming, Cohen says victims in general “tend to lock into their relationship with their abuser.” Research has shown that those who have been sexually assaulted often maintain a relationship with their assailant for various reasons.
For victims whose perpetrators are powerful and prominent in their industry, threats to their career may compel them to maintain a working relationship. Abusers like these often would abuse weaker victims time and time again, their abuse “insatiable” and spanning “decades across time and space,” Cohen told Insider.
“Harvey Weinstein is like Kevin Spacey, Larry Nassar, and Bill Cosby — these are all-powerful, charismatic, prominent men who have been accused of using their prominence to take advantage sexually of people who were in a weaker position and doing it in a way that involved multiple victims,” he continued.
Since the first Weinstein accusers came forward in 2017, more than 100 women have accused the former movie producer of egregious sexual misconduct, ranging from sexual harassment to rape — but few have culminated into criminal charges.
Jurors in the New York trial entered the third day of deliberations on Thursday. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and his defense argued that all of his relationships with the women were consensual. Los Angeles prosecutors accused him of four additional sex crimes and are seeking to begin trial proceedings after the New York case is finished.
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