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"It's not unusual for women to lie." Harvey Weinstein's lawyer's controversial 60 Minutes interview.

Content warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault, and may be distressing for some readers. If you need support, please call the sexual assault helpline on 1800 010 120.

Harvey Weinstein’s lead defence lawyer, Donna Rotunno, 44, has spoken to 60 Minutes about her controversial client and his alleged victims.

Rotunno has made a career for herself defending men who have been accused of sexual misconduct. Her latest client, Harvey Weinstein, has been accused by over 80 women of sexual abuse and is currently facing court in New York for six charges relating to two of those women.

Weinstein denies all allegations.

Despite the number of women that have spoken out against Weinstein, Rotunno says, “Women lie. It’s not unusual for women to lie.

“Women are attracted to powerful men. Women are attracted to older powerful men. Women don’t care what they look like. They don’t care how big they are. They’re attracted to the lifestyle and the benefit of the lifestyle.”

Rotunno told 60 Minutes’ Tom Steinfort that women were throwing themselves at Weinstein, and when asked why so many women would lie and accuse Harvey of sex crimes, she said, “I think there’s a couple of reasons. I think one, there’s definitely a financial and a monetary gain that’s possible. I also think the motivation is not wanting to be the person who says, ‘I had consensual behaviour with Harvey Weinstein’.

“I think that once people started coming out, women who by any other account, if you look at the evidence, engaged in consensual behaviour, now say, ‘I don’t want to be that person’.”

When asked if women should be able to take risks without being raped, she says “of course”, then follows it up with: “But at the same time, to then say, ‘I swipe right on Tinder and then I go home with somebody and not think that they then may try to proposition me.'”

To which Steinfort replied, “that almost sounds like you’re saying when you go home, you’re asking for it.”

“That’s not at all what I’m saying,” Rotunno retorted. “What I’m saying is when you go home with someone after swiping right, to act as if you have no idea what that interaction may be or what you may be consenting to, seems ridiculous to me. “

Rotunno believes Weinstein committed “sins” (akin to “treating people badly at work”), but says sins don’t make you a criminal.

60 Minutes reporter Tom Steinfort questioning Harvey Weinstein on his way to court. Image credit: 60 Minutes and Channel Nine.
60 Minutes reporter Tom Steinfort questioning Harvey Weinstein on his way to court. Image credit: 60 Minutes and Channel Nine.
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It's not the first time Donna has raised eyebrows with her comments.

In an interview with Megan Twohey, Rotunno was asked if she’d ever been sexually assaulted, and replied: "I have not, because I would never put myself in that position."

Audibly dumbfounded, interviewer Twohey - one of the two journalists who broke the story of Weinstein's alleged abuse in 2017 - asked for clarification.

“I have always made choices, from college-age on, where I never drank too much, I never went home with someone that I didn't know; I just never put myself in any vulnerable circumstance. Never," Rotunno, who identifies herself as the ‘ultimate feminist’, doubled down.

The interview, for The New York Times' podcast The Daily, made worldwide headlines.

Donna Rotunno Harvey Weinstein
Donna Rotunno and Harvey Weinstein. Image: Getty.
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But Rotunno’s comments about never putting herself in the position to be sexually assaulted - which ignores the reality of sexual abuse - was not the only bizarre and blatantly ignorant comment she made.

Here are the other comments made by Donna Rotunno.

"The responsibility should be equal."

Rotunno, who has lost only one trial related to sex crimes, states that women should be “prepared for what could potentially happen".

Twohey, stupefied by Rotunno's answer, responds: "I can’t help but feel like you continue to place the burden of safety on women, on potential victims in general. Should the burden rest on them, or should it rest on the perpetrator?"

"I think it should rest equally," Rotunno responds, not missing a beat. "The responsibility should be equal."

"You can't have it both ways," the defence lawyer continues. "We can't have things like Tinder, where people swipe right and go meet whoever they meet and most of the time those are sexual interactions, and then say, 'You know what, I went out with them, I went to their house, we were flirting, we were kissing,' and then say, 'I had no idea that he might want to do this.' You just can't have it both ways."

'They should sign a consent form.'

With Rotunno continuing to partly blame victims of sexual assault, Twohey asks if there is anything a potential perpetrator should do differently.

She believes that if she were a man today and engaging in sexual behaviour, she would “ask them to sign a consent form".

Shocked and momentarily speechless, Twohey asks, "You are being serious?"

"I'm being dead serious."

Harvey Weinstein trial
Harvey Weinstein going into his trial for sexual abuse charges in New York City. Image: Getty.
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'Celebrity victim-hood status.'

Rotunno, who cross-examined the alleged victims of Weinstein during the trial, was asked why she believes Weinstein's accusers would lie about their encounters with the movie producer.

She answers saying, "We have created a society of celebrity victim-hood status."

"We have created a society where women don't have to take any responsibility for their actions," she told Twohey.

"We have created a society where if we say 'believe all women,' that means we're not supposed to question anyone at all. So there is absolutely no risk for a woman to come forward and make a claim now. Zero."

This was brought up in court, with prosecutors complaining to the judge about her comments, after Rotunno was explicitly told to "leave the witnesses alone, don’t talk about them in any capacity".

"She’s calling our witnesses liars and celebrity victimhood status, and it is completely in contradiction to your order," lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi said in court. "So Judge, we are asking for you to order the defense to cease and desist any discussion about this case in public."

Rotunno said she was unaware the interview was being published. (The New York Times insists she was made aware).

In Weinstein's trial, a total of six women testified against the movie producer. Four women are not pressing criminal charges, but are instead there to demonstrate his alleged pattern to relentlessly abuse the dreams of aspiring actresses.

For full episodes of 60 Minutes, visit 9Now.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please 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.

This story was originally published on February 10 and was updated on February 23rd.

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