Rape Is Still Rape, Even When Consensual Sex Happens Later

Not long after Jessica Mann moved to Los Angeles in 2011 to pursue acting, she says forced himself on her in a hotel room in Beverly Hills. The famous producer performed oral sex on Mann without her consent while her friend was in the next room, she testified last week during Weinstein’s sexual assault trial in New York City.

“The more I fought, the angrier he got,” she . The disgraced film mogul is facing five felony sexual assault charges, which stem from multiple allegations from Mann and Weinstein’s former assistant Miriam Haley.

Mann said she left the encounter at the hotel feeling confused, but attempted to maintain a relationship with the producer, in part, because he had promised to cast her in one of his films.

“I had been sexual with very few people, and I couldn’t undo what had already happened,” Mann. It was at that point, Mann said, she decided to “” with Weinstein. That first alleged assault was the beginning of a four-year relationship between Mann and Weinstein, which included both consensual and non-consensual sex acts, she testified. Weinstein allegedly raped Mann twice during this period. 

Weinstein’s defense attorneys tried to make it seem like the consensual encounters invalidated her assault claims. “You had a choice to walk right out of that hotel room and never see Harvey Weinstein again, isn’t that right?” Weinstein’s lawyer asked.

But throughout the trial, Mann was very clear about what happened to her. “I know the history of my relationship with him,” Mann during her testimony. “I know it is complicated and different, but it does not change the fact that he raped me.”

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Mann’s relationship with Weinstein may have been complicated, but it’s not unimaginable. Multiple experts told HuffPost that some sexual assault survivors do have consensual sex with their attackers after an initial assault. 

“I certainly understand that it seems bizarre,” Dr. Laura Wilson, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Mary Washington told HuffPost by phone on Thursday. “But in actuality, when you think about how people respond to victimization it makes a lot of sense.” Wilson, whose research focuses on post-trauma functioning in sexual assault survivors, explained that most survivors don’t initially use the terms “assault” or “rape” to describe what they’ve experienced. Instead, they might conceptualize the assault as “bad sex” or “a miscommunication.” 

JOHANNES EISELE via Getty Images Former actress Jessica Mann arrives for the trial of Harvey Weinstein at the Manhattan Criminal Court, on Jan. 31, 2020 in New York City.

Often times, the survivor in this scenario is in an ongoing relationship with an abusive partner, Wilson said. People tend to believe rape is perpetrated by a stranger ― not someone known to the victim like a partner, classmate or colleague. So when sexual violence is perpetrated by someone the survivor knows (which is of the time, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), they often don’t have the correct language to describe the encounter. 

“What we know through research is that people have, what we call, a ‘stereotyped rape script,’” Wilson explained. “What most people assume rape looks like is a strange man raping a woman in a dark alley, there’s typically a weapon involved, and she normally fights back. Anything that doesn’t fit that script, we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t know how to conceptualize it.”

For periods of time after the assault, a victim could continue to be in a friendship, a consensual sexual relationship and even a marriage with their rapist. 

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Besides Mann, other high-profile sexual assault cases have involved similar patterns. Brooke Nevills, the woman who of anally raping her in 2014, continued a consensual sexual relationship with Lauer after the alleged assault. Many of R. Kelly’s alleged victims, a majority of whom were young female fans, stayed in a relationship with the singer after alleged abuse took place.

Power imbalance is definitely a factor that contributes to situations like these, Kristen Houser, a consultant and sexual violence expert formerly with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said. 

“People who perpetrate this kind of violence are highly-skilled at recognizing vulnerabilities,” she told HuffPost. “This is not about miscommunications, this is about somebody reading fear or vulnerability and taking advantage of it anyway.”

Mann discussed in length during her testimony how much power Weinstein wielded over her career and how she attempted to make him a “pseudo father” figure. When defense attorney Donna Rotunno asked why Mann didn’t simply walk away from Weinstein after the first alleged rape, Mann : “That could have been death to any attempt of a career.”

Often, this power imbalance leads to or fuels an abusive relationship, whether emotionally and/or physically, which Mann alluded to in her testimony when she described Weinstein as “Jekyll and Hyde.” 

Houser said this is a textbook example of gaslighting from an abusive partner. 

“The ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ description of somebody who is nice, who will behave in ways that seem thoughtful, that seem caring, that seem authentic is part of a pattern,” Houser said. “It creates confusion. It creates a sense of distrust of your own experience. The ongoing is part of keeping victims confused and questioning the nature of the relationship.”

Houser added that sometimes survivors of sexual violence consent to sex with their rapist after an attack in order to take back their power. 

“Initiating a sexual relationship or sexual with somebody who has rendered you helpless can give you a feeling of mastery over that helplessness,” she said. “Now you can be in control. Now you are able to give consent.”

Mann’s experience seemed to be in line with this phenomenon. During her testimony, she read an email she wrote to her then-boyfriend in 2014. “I remembered the day I realized I was controlling my world because I was sexually assaulted, and that story played out where I played into sexual dynamics with people to feel like I would never be taken advantage of again,” Mann read from the email before breaking down in tears. 

The prosecution in Weinstein’s case rested on Thursday and his defense is up next. His attorneys are expected to call expert witnesses, including a psychologist who can speak to human memory, most likely to cast doubt on Mann and other alleged victims’ accounts. 

Weinstein’s trial, which was expected to last at least six weeks, is moving quicker than expected. A verdict could be handed down by mid-February. Weinstein, who has been accused by of sexual misconduct, is facing five felony sex assault charges, including the most serious, predatory sexual assault. If convicted on this charge, he faces life in prison. 

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