Victims of sexual violence have one hell of an ally in the newly unshackled Jennifer Siebel Newsom, feminist documentary filmmaker and wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom. And in one way, I’m sorry about that.
Because as she says in the extremely raw video she released on Thursday, after the man she has accused of raping her, the predatory former king of Hollywood Harvey Weinsteinwas sentenced to 16 more years in prison, “I never asked to join this club. No one did.”
Siebel Newsom was relieved of her privacy about that violation when she testified against Weinstein in November.
But she went even further in Thursday’s video, referring to herself as a repeat trauma survivor who’d felt responsible for her sister’s accidental death in a golf cart accident when she was only 6, then had been sexually assaulted by a high school classmate and by the trusted coach of her national soccer team.
“But what Harvey Weinstein did to me was the worst,” she said. “His assault was excruciatingly traumatic, and for years, he walked away unfettered.”
Why is this extraordinary? Not because all of this happened to her; many if not most women have multiple stories along these lines. It’s that someone in her position is saying it, out loud and on such a big platform, that makes it a departure.
There is a class issue here that is important to acknowledge, too, one that used to keep “nice girls,” as Siebel Newsom tearfully called herself on the witness stand, from speaking about these things. When I told my own mother that I’d been raped, decades after the fact, she at first insisted that that couldn’t be the case. “We don’t know anyone who has been raped,” she told me. Oh, but we do.
A prosecutor I know once pointed out that when someone’s house has been broken into more than once, we never ask, “Wow, what’s wrong with your house that it keeps getting burglarized?” Yet even now, we do blame the victims of sex crimes for what’s happened to them.
Thursday’s sentencing means that whatever comes of Weinstein’s appeal in New York, where he’s currently serving 23 years, the Oscar-winning rapist will almost certainly spend the rest of his life watching that awards ceremony from behind bars.
And all it took was decades of pain for dozens of women, more than 90 of whom have accused him.
In December, the LA jury found Weinstein guilty on three counts — forcible rape, forcible oral copulation and sexual penetration by a foreign object — all of the same woman, identified as Jane Doe 1. Only she was allowed to give a victim statement in court , where she said his crimes against her had left her feeling “heartbroken, empty and alone” for many years. “Inside, I have fallen apart. He had broken me into a million pieces.”
Jurors could not come to a unanimous decision on whether he’d also violated Siebel Newsom during a business meeting in his hotel suite in 2005. This after defense attorney Mark Werksman called her “just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead.”
But in the video the first partner posted after his Thursday sentencing, she said some really important things.
Victims, she said, often find lifesaving protection in initially telling even themselves that nothing terrible has happened. “But our bodies do not lie. They hold onto trauma, and that trauma manifests in multiple ways. For years, he walked away unfettered, while for years, I nursed my wounds. I tried all sorts of therapies, trying to make sense of it all, trying to heal the physical manifestations of trauma. We break women by ignoring the very cells of our DNA, and it passes down from generation to generation.”
Anyone who does not understand what she’s talking about and wants to should read “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma,” by Bessel van der Kolk.
“When we ignore a woman’s cries of pain,” Siebel Newsom said in the video, “when we tell her she is to blame, that she asked for it, that this was just business as usual, when we insist that her memory is imperfect , that perhaps she was too ambitious, we don’t just deny her experience, we deny her natural trauma response,” which is at first to internally underplay all that’s happened for survival’s sake. Then, when a victim later comes to terms with what happened, we say that version of events must be a lie.
As Siebel Newsom says, we have so much more work to do. And after all these years, it feels like we’re only getting started.
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