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“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”

Fiona Nicolson

If you are still affected by the Harvey Weinstein trial you are not alone

Posted on 08 April 2020

I notice something very interesting with the clients I see for sexual abuse and trauma. Although the Weinstein trial has finished and justice seems to have been done, a number of my clients are finding it difficult to put behind them. One said to me the other day, “Everyone else is obsessed with corona virus and I still keep thinking about Harvey Weinstein. What is wrong with me?”

My answer was: “nothing at all, you are processing something which is very close to your own experience and this cannot be done to the outside world’s timetable.”

I avoided comment in detail about the trial as it went along. After all everyone deserves justice and it is only the jury who will be hearing absolutely everything which is said.

But since it has ended, I have worked with a lot of people who felt the trial opened up old wounds. Trials like this can affect people who have survived sexual abuse and assault in a deep and profound way.

At my central London trauma clinic another client who was still thinking about the trial told me: “It is not just that I heard things which were similar to what happened to me. That’s bad enough, but the was way the defence lawyer treated the witnesses . . .that’s what really got me. It made me angry, but it also made me scared.”

We spent a lot of the session working on this. I am going to highlight some insights which I think might help if you are feeling the same as my client.

There are two things happening when a witness is harangued in court, called a liar and has her sexual history laid bare. And they are two things which go right to the heart of the trauma which is caused by sexual assault. They are powerlessness and shame.

The feeling of powerlessness is real. A court is an intimidating place. Also, it is filled with people to whom it is a familiar environment, the judges, lawyers and court staff. And of course, if you are a witness, you might have to come face to face with your attacker. That is a massive pressure. But there is another factor here too. The focus is going to be on what happened to you and you are faced with this in an intimidating situation, which can make it very difficult to deal with the memories you are being made to recall.

Many people who have been sexually assaulted are ashamed. They somehow blame themselves and they internalise the experience. Often they have never spoken openly about what has happened to them and suddenly they find the most intimate details of their lives in the public domain. This can be very tough indeed.

One of the witnesses in the Weinstein trial had a panic attack during her testimony. I hope she read some of the coverage of her ordeal and can see what support she has. While Weinstein’s lawyer accused her of being manipulative, commentators, campaigners and trauma experts pointed out the power imbalance between the two. More in-depth articles explored the common factors in an abusive relationship, and why the victim can be so ground-down that they cannot even imagine leaving. This is the epitome of powerlessness and the court experience can force a victim to recall and literally relive it in all its horror.

I do believe that the legal system could do much more to protect victims here. Video evidence, insisting lawyers treat victims with respect, disallowing irrelevant questions about sexual history would all help. A psychological support service, and a follow-up service would improve things as well.

Until this happens, I do believe that there are very useful techniques that experts such as myself can do to help any individual who finds themselves in this situation.

I have worked with and supported clients who have given evidence in court and one thing I always try to do is protect the client against feeling out of control. A sense of control is powerful and in a situation where all the power seems to be with others, creating a nexus, a place, a shield of power for the client it is essential.

Sometimes I run through what is likely to happen to familiarise the client and develop mental strategies to help them at the most stressful points. I also work with clients to help them distance the traumatic experience. I use techniques such as eye movement integration which can help file memories in the right place so they are not so vivid or intrusive. I use techniques to help the client to understand, at a deep level that she is not to blame and there is the chance of a good life after this experience.

These are just a couple of examples of what is often a very detailed process. It needs to be tailored for each individual. The good news is that it often works quickly.

If you feel I could help you, contact me.

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