Lisa Bloom, daughter of the country’s most famous women’s rights attorney, Gloria Allred, has followed in her mother’s footsteps defending women in court against notorious abusers like Bill O’Reilly and Bill Cosby. But a new book that takes readers inside the investigation that inspired more than 80 women to come forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Harvey Weinstein shows that she hasn’t always been on the victims’ side.
According to She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, a new book out today by the New York Times reporters who first broke the allegations against Weinstein, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, Bloom once promised to help Weinstein tarnish the reputations of his accusers, including actresses Rose McGowan and Ashely Judd, by planting stories in the press to make them seem “unglued” and “mentally unstable.”
“I feel equipped to help you against the Roses of the world, because I have represented so many of them,” Bloom wrote in a memo to Weinstein. “We can place an article re her becoming increasingly unglued, so that when someone Googles her this is what pops up and she’s discredited.”
Given Bloom’s history as a legal advocate for women who’ve been sexually abused, many were shocked by this information. But attempts to discredit sexual assault survivors by questioning their mental health are not new or uncommon. According to Kristen Houser, Chief Public Affairs Officer at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the practice is “super, super common.”
In the past year alone, there have been multiple examples of this narrative. In December of 2018, a woman in the audience at an event led by famous life coach Tony Robbins disclosed before the crowd that she’d been physically and emotionally abused in a previous relationship. “What role did you play?” responded Robbins. “Does he put up with you when you’ve been a crazy bitch? Have you ever been a crazy bitch?” Months before, after Christine Blasey Ford gave her testimony about her experience with Brett Kavanaugh, columnist Catherine Cherkasky wrote in USA Today: “We should talk about how mental health and past sexual conduct are totally excluded from this discussion, but are often factors that play into the question of an accuser’s credibility. Do any of us know the first thing about Ford’s mental health or sexual history? Of course not, but it doesn't seem to matter for those forging ahead with her as their champion.”
The pattern of disputing sexual assault victims’ mental health isn’t just pervasive, according to Houser, it can be very dangerous—and not just for celebrity victims.
One of the main reasons why questioning sexual assault survivors’ mental health is so harmful is that it can be a major factor in why survivors take so long to report assault, Houser explained. “People take a lot of time to figure out if [reporting] is worth risking everything they think they will lose, and public credibility is a big part of that: Will people believe me?,” she said. "So when you have weighed that and decided to go public and then are discredited, it is a devastating blow.” In addition to the blow felt by the assault survivor, public attempts to discredit high-profile survivors can ultimately discourage others from reporting, for fear that their own stability will be questioned. “The hearing with Christine Blasey Ford, that was so emotionally difficult for thousands of women in this country because it cuts way too close to home,” she said.
Ironically, debating the mental health of people who have been sexually assaulted can worsen their mental health. “It compounds the trauma,” Houser said. “When you aren’t believed and people instead blame you, gossip about you, target you, and increase your victimization, those are the people for whom PTSD symptoms last longer, they are felt very sharply.”
Houser points out that struggling with your mental health or having emotional reactions following the trauma of assault is normal, and even more so when you’re not being believed about your experiences. “It is a normal and even healthy response to be angry after you’ve been assaulted, and to be angry that people don’t believe you, to be depressed, to be hypervigilant, to lose sleep,” she said.
On Sunday, Lisa Bloom issued a second apology about her work with Weinstein on Twitter. The first was in 2017, after news broke that she had worked with Weinstein at all. This time, she thanked the authors of the book for “forcing me to confront the colossal mistake I made in working for Weinstein two years ago,” but did not directly address the fact that she weaponized the trauma of sexual assault victims so that they would not be believed by the public.
“I judge others not by their one worst mistake but by their lifetime of work,” she wrote. “In my case that is over three decades fighting mostly for underdogs against the powerful.”
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