Harvey Weinstein: Sexuality Case Study

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Today I met with a new client, Harvey Weinstein. Harvey is a 66-year-old cisgender male who reported being American, white, Jewish, and heterosexual. He grew up in New York City and is of Polish ancestry. His parents are deceased (he mentioned they were overbearing), but he has one living brother, who Harvey indicated is quieter and “subdued.” He indicated having two past marriages and five children with a former secretary and an actress, respectively. His most recent wife left him after ten years due to sexual misconduct allegations, but he remains hopeful that they will get back together after his treatment.

Harvey has been involved in the film industry and started a company with his brother after attending college in Buffalo, New York. His fruitful career was based in Hollywood, California, where he reported earning many film accolades such as Academy and Tony Awards. When I asked him about his work relationships, he indicated that he was considered a “ruthless” operator who did many favors for women and was thanked for his good deeds. Harvey expressed disappointment that the women he worked with would accuse him of sexual misconduct while noting that he matriculated in a “different era” where the conduct expectations were different. He recently lost his job due to termination by the Board of Directors of his own company, but is hopeful that his career will get back on track because of his immense savings (over 150 million dollars) and optimism that things will blow over.

He currently lives in Los Angeles, California but moved to Arizona for personal reasons (he is out on bail at the moment). When I asked the client what brought him in to see me, he expressed concern over sexual misconduct allegations stemming from his formal arrest in May of 2018. He indicated that he was being charged with rape and sex abuse, among other crimes with a sexual nature. Harvey also informed me that there are many misconduct allegations against him, mostly from celebrities.

Upon further inspection of his situation, Harvey expressed that he was “not sure” if his actions constituted rape or the other crimes he is accused of. He expressed concern that there was an outstanding conspiracy against him and minimized the extent to which sexual coercion may have been involved. He formally denied participating in rape and offered explanations for why people think that.

He is seeking treatment to better understand if his sexual urges are normal, and to show others that he is proactively seeking professional help for the allegations against him. The issue of sexual addiction was brought up several times as a reason for treatment. Otherwise, Harvey denied having mood problems or suicidal intentions, but did note that he had incredible difficulty sleeping at night. The client has no other past treatment for sex rehabilitation or mental health problems and expressed concern over the involvement and duration of his current program (I recommended a month or more). Harvey listed sex addiction treatment as a goal for therapy and became timid upon mention of potentially working on issues related to his allegations: rape, coercion, power, assault, and the like. I told Harvey that we would need more time to properly diagnose him and scheduled group sessions for him to participate in. 

Theory Application and Critique

Harvey’s behavior and general pattern of sexual deviance can be adequately explained by Freud’s psychodynamic theory. According to Freud’s theory, sex is a core human drive that comprises the libido. Freud’s theory of personality formation also includes abstract structures known as the id, ego, and superego. The id is the pleasure center that drives basic instincts, much like an “animal brain” according to the lecture. These structures develop during childhood (in stages) and together comprise the conscious, preconscious, and subconscious; that is, these critical aspects of our personality are developed before the age of five and impact our future behavior without our direct knowledge. 

Psychodynamic theory relates to Harvey’s particular situation because we see certain childhood trauma potentially manifest in his sexual desire for power with young women he works with. As noted in his case overview, Harvey had overbearing parents and a stiff sense of competition with his brother. While we don’t know much more about how Harvey engaged with his parents, it’s clear that he has a deep desire for power and control. Freud’s theory would explain Harvey’s sexual habits as a means of projecting his desire for power and thus a showcase of improper superego development. Lecture two cited an example of this kind of behavior within the context of seeking pleasure (power) without regard for others. Additionally, Harvey’s mother was a homemaker, so it’s possible that he developed improper feelings for his mother during the latency stage in the form of an Oedipus complex. This complex would explain Harvey’s behavioral pattern of excess need for control. Finally, Harvey’s general paranoia regarding people having a broad “conspiracy” against him would be accounted for under the presumption that he never dealt with the impasse of assuming his father would want to castrate him. Harvey’s treatment would therefore need to address his past relationship with his mother and father, focusing on the theme of control and power.

Applying psychodynamic theory to Harvey’s situation has many pros because of the severity of his behavioral symptoms but some clear drawbacks because of a lack of empirical evidence or insight into his state of mind. There is no question that Harvey has serious behavioral problems that have been part of his narrative for a long time (consider that he has hundreds of women who have allegations against him). It’s very likely that these behaviors stemmed from childhood experiences and the fact they manifested sexually integrates nicely with Freud’s emphasis on sex as an important facet of human behavior. However, we don’t learn much about Harvey’s situational factors, cognitions, and state of mind with psychodynamic theory. For example, cognitive theory may inform us that Harvey exercises sexual power over attractive celebrity women because he has an irrational belief that “if I don’t take advantage of this situation now, I may never get another chance again.” Also, we don’t have much empirical evidence regarding Harvey’s situation, which can make tracking his recovery more difficult.

Diagnostic Considerations

In considering diagnosis, Harvey’s profile fits several important characteristics that are common of rapists. For example, he has high impulsivity and aggression as noted by the nature of the allegations by women. Additionally, it’s a pattern of behavior (surely more than the average number of six the lecture noted) that Harvey has had over the course of his life. According to the other factors listed in the lecture, Harvey would fit into the model of a power rapist because he exerts domination and control over women (a common fantasy for heterosexual cis men according to lecture). Consider that the context of most of his victims’ allegations were this premise: new, young celebrity who wants a movie role, but must “deal” with Harvey first. Harvey knows he has leverage, so he uses it to exercise his power in exchange for value to the young woman.

Harvey’s behavior is indicative of the feminist theory of rape. Harvey is clearly demonstrating his power and authority over women to remind them that “he’s in charge” of the film business and controls the board. In raping women, Harvey is enforcing the gender stereotype of women being submissive, likely similar to how his own mother was a homemaker. This is also compounded with the fact that Harvey has a mean streak about him. The power he exercises over women that are forced to deal with him is likely similar to the power he tried to exercise over his brother when they were growing up. Harvey even commented that his brother was more “subdued” than him and didn’t have his same flare for being ruthless. Consequently, we can see that Harvey’s core motif isn’t sex per se, but power that he acquires through the act of sex, inflicted upon women. This means versus ends outlook tells us that subjugation of women is important to him, not the sex itself. For that reason, I don’t believe that Harvey has a sex addiction—Harvey has a dominance addiction.

Based on the evidence we have seen, evolutionary theory seems the least credible. While Harvey may be interested broadly with “spreading his seed,” the intake notes show that he already had five children. During the latter portion of his career, Harvey wasn’t likely interested in having more children. Many sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey included oral sex and non-penetrative actions. Non-penetrative actions reflect alternative desires other than reproduction.

Application of Research

Based on the evidence provided related to unwanted sexual misconduct as well as violence, Harvey is most surely a sex offender that needs serious rehabilitation. Before addressing what relevant studies suggest about Harvey’s treatment, it’s important to make a few important observations about Harvey that are particularly important. First, the high number of women Harvey allegedly raped indicates a long-term pattern of behavior. Second, we have to presume that since Harvey got away with this behavior so long, he may believe it is rational and “not that serious.” Finally, we must consider the fact that Harvey is extraordinarily wealthy and is thus accustomed to an affluent lifestyle. All of these factors will impact his rehabilitation.

For Harvey’s treatment to be successful, he will most likely need to work with a male therapist who is going to be considerate of Harvey’s reversal of fortune. Given that Harvey abused so many women, he would most likely struggle with a female therapist (especially if he is used to overpowering them). This would be an important factor because for real change to happen Harvey will need to develop a strong working alliance with a therapist. Charles Gelso’s (2013) tripartite model of therapeutic relationships tells us that a working alliance needs to exist whereby the work of rehabilitation can get done. This includes trust, agreement on goals (an agenda), and a willingness to cooperate. If women reported Harvey, he would likely not respond well to building a working alliance with a woman. Studies also show that for sex offenders in particular a therapeutic relationship is vital for success. In a group therapy study involving 54 sex offenders, Rachael Watson, Stuart Thomas, and Michael Daffern (2017) found that critical moments of disagreement (what they called a rupture) resulted in serious compromise of the therapeutic relationship between a therapist and sex offender. Based on this evidence, it’s likely that Harvey would be subject to a rupture under the care of a female therapist.

The study previously mentioned by Watson et al (2017) utilized a group therapy setting whereby surveys were conducted at baseline, after session, and months after the sessions ended. The surveys sought to measure the quality of the therapeutic relationship between the client and therapist. Ruptures were defined as a fundamental breakdown of the initial goals and attitudes agreed upon. Since strong therapeutic alliances are linked with positive rehabilitation outcomes, I believe that if Harvey wants to be successful, he must have a male therapist to reduce the risk of rupture. 

Furthermore, I think it’s also important to prepare the client for the most probable and inevitable outcome: his treatment will take a long time (longer than the month or two he has in mind with me) and will likely be conducted in a prison setting. It’s likely that Harvey will serve prison time after his trial in May, and this will surely create lots of distress for his mental well-being after living such an affluent lifestyle. This drastic shift will impede his ability to make significant progress. In a study conducted by Gunda Woessner and Andreas Schwedler (2014), prison climate was measured against high risk-factor beliefs and attitudes for sexual offenders (as measured by empathy, attitude towards law enforcement, and other questions). The result of almost 100 cases was statistically significant in showing that prison climate was closely related to future treatment outcomes; that is, the level of perceived safety, fear of other inmates, hostility towards staff, and autonomy restrictions were important (Woessner & Schwedler, 2014). Given these results, I suspect that Harvey will struggle making progress in a prison setting. Ultimately, the success of his treatment may depend on how other inmates feel about his transgressions, and whether or not they will choose to intimidate him.

Sex Rehabilitation

Much of Harvey’s rehabilitation will rely on him changing his attitudes toward his activities. Since the core goal is for Harvey to change his behavior (stop sexually assaulting and raping women), he would greatly benefit from individual or group therapy focused on empathy training. The empathy training would help put himself in the shoes of the women he abused and would hopefully show him the seriousness of his actions. A group therapy setting might be beneficial for getting Harvey to open up about his past by seeing how open others are about confronting it too. Another activity would be to confront the irrational beliefs that are behind his stereotyped gender roles of women, perhaps through cognitive behavioral therapy. The primary goal of Harvey’s rehabilitation would thus be to have him embrace his actions to develop empathy. This empathy would hopefully result in a reduction of the behavior and changed attitudes towards his victims. 

While Harvey’s gender identity, race, and nationality are similar to mine, we have many differences in other important areas. If I was Harvey’s therapist, I would need to acknowledge that we are both white cis men who have Eastern European lineage. However, I do not share Harvey’s attitudes towards women, coercion, rape, and expression of power. While he is Jewish, I don’t see him as particularly religious, and neither am I. If I worked with Harvey, I would surely have to keep in check my irritation towards the fact that men like him paint a negative stereotype for all men in power. Nonetheless, I would try to empathize with his perspective and unpack his distorted beliefs about why he felt compelled to do what he did. I would put my personal feelings aside and do right by my client, especially if we developed a strong working alliance. Finally, as Gelso (2013) argued, genuineness would need to be part of the real relationship I build with Harvey in order to set the groundwork for treatment efficacy.

Determining success or failure with Harvey’s treatment plan would be difficult to measure, as would determining how long it would take. However, based on the studies previously mentioned by Woessner & Schwedler (2014), significant progress could be made in a few years if Harvey cooperates and his prison climate is conducive to progress. To me, a main indicator of success would be feelings of shame, guilt, and sorrow for the victims he abused. Ultimately, Harvey would need to be willing to change and work with me to set an agenda (working alliance) and be honest (real relationship) about the long path ahead (Gelso, 2013). As it stands, Harvey has a lot of work to do because the severity of his actions is not apparent to him. He doesn’t quite see it as serious. I don’t see Harvey as highly subject to future transgression because of the raw amount of social stigma associated with him personally. I think he will have a difficult time befriending anyone, let alone a young attractive celebrity. Moving forward, I think that even if Harvey’s recovery goes well, he will always have a mark of shame and will suffer from social isolation, and likely depression.

References

Gelso, C. (2013). A Tripartite Model of the Therapeutic Relationship: Theory, Research, and Practice. Psychotherapy Research, 24(2), 117-131. doi:10.1080/10503307.2013.845920

Watson, R., Thomas, S., & Daffern, M. (2017). The Impact of Interpersonal Style on Ruptures and Repairs in the Therapeutic Alliance Between Offenders and Therapists in Sex Offender Treatment. Sexual Abuse, 29(7), 709-728. doi: 10.1177/1079063215617514

Woessner, G., & Schwedler, A. (2014). Correctional Treatment of Sexual and Violent Offenders: Therapeutic Change, Prison Climate, and Recidivism. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 41(7), 862-879. doi: 10.1177/0093854813520544