Self-Defense in the News: Two Women Who Defended Themselves Against Harvey Weinstein
10.18.17 by Amy Jones
I’m always annoyed when people gain fame by behaving badly, and I really don’t want to spend much time on Harvey Weinstein at all. But there are two women who have come forward and told the world about both his detestable actions and their courageous defense against him. Those are the people I want to talk about. Their names are Ambra Battilana Gutierrez and Katherine Kendall, and they deserve to be remembered and celebrated.
Before I get into their stories, I want to make a couple of points that are at the heart of the empowerment model of self-defense. First of all, the fact that these two women were able to defend themselves against assault (or rather, further assault) in no way changes the truth that Weinstein’s behavior was his choice and that he is solely responsible for his actions. Nor does it imply that what they did was ‘right’ and what other women who were targeted and victimized by Weinstein did was ‘wrong.’ When someone like Weinstein makes the choice to commit an assault against a woman, she does what she can in that moment to protect herself. Right and wrong are meaingless concepts in this context, and imply a level of responsibility that just doesn’t exist. It’s also a fallacy to assume that if other women had done what Ms. Gutierrez or Ms. Kendall did, they would have experienced the same results. Every situation is different, and there isn’t a rulebook for these kinds of encounters.
I also want to acknowledge that even though Ms. Gutierrez’s and Ms. Kendall’s actions were successful in preventing Weinstein from perpetrating sexual assault on them, their experiences were still traumatic. Ms. Kendall, in particular, speaks frankly about some of the lingering traumatic stress she has had to endure, and by characterizing their actions as successful, I don’t mean to minimize the horror that they experienced.
Without further ado, here are Ambra Gutierrez and Katherine Kendall’s success stories.
Ambra Battilana Gutierrez met with Weinstein in 2015. She is an Italian model and was then in a Radio City Music Hall show that he was producing. He invited her to his office, ostensibly to look at her modeling portfolio, and during that meeting, he groped her breasts and put his hand up her skirt. Later that day, she went to the police. When he contacted her for a second meeting, she cooperated with police by accepting and wearing a wire to the meeting. On the resulting tape (which you can hear in its entirety here), you can hear Weinstein alternately cajoling and threatening her in an attempt to get her to go into his hotel room. She refuses, and instead confronts him on his behavior, which he a) admits, b) minimizes, and c) promises not to repeat (“I’m used to that — I won’t do it again”, he says). He continues his efforts, and she continues to resist, until he finally gives up.
As regular readers know, we structure our self-defense trainings around the Five Fingers of Self-Defense: Think Yell Run Fight Tell. Think is about mental strategies for enhancing safety, including listening to instincts, being aware of surroundings, and having realistic and accurate information about relative risk. Yell is about communication strategies — being clear and direct, setting assertive boundaries, de-escalation techniques, and using both assertive boundary-setting and de-escalation on behalf of others. Run is about both escaping dangerous situations when possible, and positioning oneself strategically. Fight is the most straightforward — it’s about physical self-defense. Finally, Tell is about regaining a sense of safety in the aftermath of violence.
In the police tape, you can hear Ms. Gutierrez successfully employing a number of self-defense strategies: she uses the Yell finger (verbal self-defense) when she very clearly and in a number of different ways sets a boundary and sticks to it, naming Weinstein’s behavior and telling him that it is not acceptable. She uses the Run finger (positioning strategies) by refusing to go into his hotel room, a more private location. And she uses the Tell finger by telling her story to the police. Maddeningly, even though Weinstein admits on tape that he groped her, the DA chose not to advance charges. Because apparently a taped confession is not enough evidence. Is it any wonder why so many women decline to go to the police after sexual assaults?
Katherine Kendall was interviewed on the New York Times podcast The Daily. She recounts how, as a young actress, she met Weinstein and was flattered when he seemed to take her seriously as an artist — and of course, he was a powerful producer and she was (initially) excited to attract his attention. She talks about how he deftly manipulated and badgered her until she accompanied him to his home. Once there, he continued to in turns reassure her of her safety and slowly escalate his behavior, until he eventually emerged from his bedroom completely naked and stood between her and the door. She describes her reaction as simultaneously fearing that he was about to rape her while also finding in herself a deep resolve that he would not be successful, seeing him as a “pathetic little boy.” She even dresses him down, telling him how disappointed she is in him. Finally, he tells her that he will let her go on the condition that she let him take her to the cab. She agrees, even waiting for him to get dressed so that he can escort her out of the building. When she gets into the cab, she realizes that it’s still not over — he gets in with her. So she has the cab take her to a bar, goes in, and asks the bartender to talk to her as if he knows her. He stays in the cab outside the bar watching her for 20 minutes, and finally leaves.
There are so many self-defense strategies in Ms. Kendall’s story. She uses the Think finger by listening to her instincts and being wary of Weinstein despite his repeated attempts to convince her to let down her guard, and by mentally reframing him as a pathetic little boy. She uses the Yell finger by setting and sticking to her verbal boundary, and by naming his behavior and telling him directly how angry and disappointed she is in him. She uses strategic compliance by agreeing to let him accompany her to the cab. She uses the Run finger by going to a public place (the bar) and staying there until he finally gives up. She enlists an ally (the bartender). And, of course, she uses the Tell finger by telling her story. The full podcast is embedded below; her interview starts around the 11 minute mark (the police tape recorded by Ms. Gutierrez is also excerpted on this podcast).
Ms. Gutierrez and Ms. Kendall instinctively used many aspects of self-defense. I tell their stories to illustrate the concept of ‘simple but not easy’ that I so often introduce in the classes I teach, and because I value the powerful role of stories in the healing process, not only for the storyteller, but for those who hear them. As Ms. Kendall says, it’s a little like “silently holding hands with the other women who have been through this.” It is my hope that survivors who read this will not only find solace in the realization that they are not alone, they will be able to recognize and celebrate their own actions as self-defense, too. Because, after all, whatever survivors do that enable them to survive is success.