Cosby, Weinstein, and what the public has always got wrong about victims of sexual assault.


Many parallels have been drawn between the sexual assault trials of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and comedian Bill Cosby.

Both involved powerful men, guilty of exploiting vulnerable women whose careers they held in their hands. Both offended with impunity for decades until survivors felt empowered to speak up. And both resulted in convictions that are considered landmark victories of #metoo-era justice.

But there’s an even more direct bridge between these cases. And her name is Dr Barbara Ziv.

Watch: After decades of predation, Harvey Weinstein has been found guilty.

Video by ABC News

As a forensic psychologist who specialises in rape crimes, Dr Ziv was called upon as an expert witness for prosecutors seeking to convict each of the men.

Her role in Cosby’s 2018 retrial in Philadelphia and Weinstein’s 2020 case in New York was to share her expertise regarding how rape and sexual assault victims behave after an attack.

That topic was a key argument of the defence in each case. How could Weinstein really be a sexual predator, when several of his alleged victims kept in contact with him after their assault? How could we believe Cosby’s accusers when they took several decades to come forward?


In her testimony in each case, Dr Ziv periodically dispelled pervasive ‘rape myths’ like these.

“Sexual assault is one of the most misunderstood crimes,” she told the jury during Cosby’s retrial, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “People think they know it. However, most common knowledge about sexual assault is wrong.”

Let’s take a look at what she meant.

The crimes.

After comedian Hannibal Buress referenced rumours about Bill Cosby’s sexual misconduct in a viral 2014 standup routine, some 60 women came forward with allegations against the former sitcom actor.

The accusations stretched as far back as the mid-1960s and included attempted sexual assault, rape, drug-facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. Most of them couldn’t be criminally prosecuted because the statute of limitations on reporting such crimes had lapsed.

Cosby, 82, was ultimately convicted in 2018 of aggravated indecent assault and sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman named Andrea Constand 14 years earlier.

Listen: What does Weinstein’s conviction actually mean? And what does it mean for the #metoo movement? (Post continues below.)


In Weinstein’s case, it was reporting by The New York Times and The New Yorker in 2017 that surfaced his alleged crimes and ignited the #metoo movement.

More than 90 women (including actors Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie) came forward with allegations against the heavyweight producer that ranged from sexual harassment to rape. The allegations spanned three decades from 1980, meaning that — like those against Cosby — most existed outside the statute of limitations.

The two crimes for which Weinstein, 67, was convicted this week are the rape of aspiring actor Jessica Mann and a criminal sexual act (forcing oral sex) on former TV production assistant, Miriam Haley. He faces five-29 years behind bars.

The case will now head to Los Angeles where Weinstein has been charged with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another over a two-day period in 2013.

The ‘right’ kind of victim.

During both Weinstein and Cosby’s trials, defence lawyers worked doggedly to attack the credibility of their accusers.

Jessica Mann, for example, was repeatedly pressed during her three-day testimony on the fact that she continued an on-off relationship with Weinstein for several years after he raped her in 2013.

The defence presented evidence that she had thanked him for inviting her to Hollywood parties, for helping her with mounting parking fines, and for helping her find work with a celebrity hairstylist. A month after the rape, she wrote him an email that said: “I appreciate all you do for me. It shows.”


This is a woman who was under the thumb of an incredibly powerful man, a man who she hoped would help her break into acting. A man who raped her.

But the defence claimed such kindness and gratitude undercut Mann’s allegations that she’d been ‘forced’ into a sexual relationship. It was also why she was considered what it known in the legal world as “an imperfect witness”.

This is based on a narrow expectation around how society and the courts expect women who’ve been assaulted to behave. And according to Dr Barbara Ziv, it’s just plain wrong.

During Cosby’s trial, Dr Ziv acknowledged how far society had come in education around sexual assault, but she stressed an important point: “we blame victims for not being the kind of victims that we think that they should be.”

Jessica Mann during the trial. Image: Getty.

Drawing on two decades of research in the field, she explained that there is no typical way of behaving after an assault. In fact, she has identified over 100 behaviours exhibited by sexual assault victims in response to their abuse; from substance addiction to post-traumatic stress disorder, to complete denial that an assault even occurred.

During her testimony at Weinstein's trial, she explained that it's "very rare" for a victim sexually assaulted by a person they know to immediately tell someone about the attack.

She explained that it's even rarer for that victim to immediately report it to the police.

She explained that most victims don't physically resist their attacker during the assault.

And she explained that many victims will maintain contact with their attacker and some will even continue relationships with them.


"The reasons are complex," Dr Ziv told the court. "As devastating as sexual assault is, most individuals think 'I can put it behind me and move on with my life and put it in a box. … I don’t want it to get worse. I don’t want this individual who sexually assaulted me to ruin my reputation, to tell people, to ruin my job opportunities. … I can handle this physical trauma, but God forbid they ruin the rest of my life.'"

The fact that this understanding of victim behaviour played a role in convicting two prolific rapists is a sign of progress. Albeit painfully slow progress.

Of course, these cases were still horrific examples of the re-traumatising nature of sexual assault trials. (Jessica Mann had a panic attack on the stand after being subjected to over four hours of aggressive questioning by Weinstein's lawyers.)

But in a system that sees just 0.5 per cent of reported rapes end in conviction, these cases are a victory for these women who so bravely raised their hands regardless, for the so-called "imperfect witnesses" and for all survivors.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.