If you want to be successful and independent in life you need to be able to deal with serious  problems when they arise because they always will, however lucky you are. You may be able to  avoid some of those problems, though, by deciding how much risk you want to take and what  precautions you will take. This risk/benefit evaluation means thinking through the consequences  of any action, planning what you can do to minimise any harm and deciding the price you will be  willing to pay if you proceed. Be aware of the possible pitfalls and be ready to accept  responsibility for your actions whatever the outcome. Don’t be naive and think claiming you’re a  victim or a vulnerable person is sensible if things go wrong. That’s pathetic and demeaning.  Above all be aware that if you put yourself in the hands of others, they probably won’t have ​your  best interests at heart but ​their own​. This is a lesson that applies to every aspect of life.

For a masterclass in straight talking and taking control of your life and to feel the power of taking  responsibility for your decisions, listen ​(here)​ to the Emily Maitlis interview on Newsnight of Donna  Rotunno, one of the attorneys representing Harvey Weinstein in his first trial. Forget about  whatever you think of Harvey Weinstein and his guilt or innocence, his attitudes and behaviour.  Forget about what you make of Donna Rotunno and her poker face. She’s described as a  Rottweiler, which gives an indication of how others perceive her. Some think she’s beyond the  pale for representing men charged with serious sexual offences and some think her tactics in  court are over-zealous. Others will think she’s doing a great job and would like to have someone  like her on their side. Step back from all the emotional reactions and listen to what she says.

You’ll hear some great advice that could transform the way you’re treated if you want to deal  properly with a serious crime or some other kind of dreadful problem. You’ll hear some practical  and wise advice about how to take control of your life and not be a victim or vulnerable to the  whims of others, especially if they’re in a more powerful position than you.

Let’s use the Weinstein case as an example of the different ways of thinking about how people  behave and react. Cases involving sexual allegations, especially when they’re long past events,  are notoriously difficult to prove for obvious reasons. Forensic evidence is long gone and usually  only the two participants were present so you can’t ask witnesses what actually happened.  Witnesses may confirm a pair were seen together on the day in question and around the time of  the incident. There could be calendar evidence or in this day and age text messages or other  forms of mobile phone communication. Usually though it mainly boils down to the word of one  against the other and also remember, memories will have faded. It’s bad enough trying to  remember the detail of something two weeks ago let alone twenty or more years ago.

So the case is likely to revolve almost entirely around the complainant’s written statement and  oral evidence in court and the same for the accused. It turns on who is believed and that often  means the person who can put on the best act and is most persuasive.

If you watch the whole Donna Rotunno interview, see what you think of the way the questions are  framed by Emily Maitlis and how she replies. Often interviewers in their line of questioning reveal  their own opinions about the issues and this happens here.

Here are some of Ms Rotunno’s very straight answers:

Does she still consider Weinstein to be innocent?

“I’m insisting on that because I look at the facts and I look at the evidence and that’s what I believe  the situation shows.”    

When challenged about her “tactics” in court where a complainant was crying and had a panic  attack when being questioned.

“The critics need to understand that in America we have a system of justice that allows people to  have the presumption of innocence, to be viewed as innocent, until proven guilty.”  

To the prosecution being allowed to use the testimony of others to try to show a pattern of  behaviour to support the complainants in this case.

“Frankly I think you have to look at each piece of evidence for what it is and each allegation for  what it is. And you know, ten bad allegations does not equal one good one. I don’t think things  need to change. I think we need to continue to evaluate evidence the way we evaluate evidence.”    

To the suggestion that it is unfair that there are so few convictions in this kind of case because of  the lack of forensic evidence.

“Maybe women will start thinking differently about the way they report these things. Maybe they  have to look at not waiting as long……..keeping some facts handy. Keeping dates, certain  documentations. In today’s day and age people keep track of dates and times on phones.   If we start to allow an emotional system to take over the system of justice we’re all going to find  ourselves in trouble.”    

On the need for women to be heard.

“Of course I believe that every woman should be heard. But just because you have a right to be  heard does not mean that you are automatically believed. That does not mean that people taking  the witness stand are presumed to be telling the truth.

These answers from Donna Rotunno are a true account of how a legal system in a free country  operates and should operate. It may sound harsh and unforgiving but look at it from the  perspective of how you’d like it to work if you or anyone you cared about was subject to an  allegation or complaint. You can’t assume someone accused is guilty nor that a witness is telling  the truth. That’s the point of having to produce evidence and it being evaluated properly.

Ms Rotunno also has some choice comments about the wisdom of women (or anyone) to take  sensible precautions against harm in the world. Precautions against being sexually abused are no  less necessary than precautions against theft or a dangerous driver.

Ms Rotunno’s straight talking is a breath of fresh air. Why do we not hear such open, direct,  sensible and balanced comments from British lawyers – for example in the Operation Midland case? The legal system in the UK shares similar principles as that of the USA and exactly the  same comments could be made here but we don’t hear them. Is it that the British media don’t  ask for or report their comments? Are British lawyers fearful of speaking up and being criticised  for telling it as it is? Are they intimidated by the ill-informed questions of journalists? Whatever  the reason, there’s a deafening silence on this side of the Atantic and we seem to need an  American to tell us what we should already know.

Evidence is fundamental if you’re dealing with anything important and need to prove it. You  should be sure to have records and keep anything to back up what you’re saying. Twenty years  ago you wouldn’t have been able to keep records on phones of what happened to you. But now  you can and should if you want to be effective and independent. It could prove where you were,  when you made your records (i.e. how soon after the event) and the other evidence you had at the  time you keep the records by linking them all together. A treasure trove of reliable information to  rely on when you want to prove your case. It could be the difference between being believed and  your complaint not being upheld.

Please note, this is an opinion piece by ONRECORD and does not necessarily represent the views of Truth Legal.

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Catherine Reynolds
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