Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Susie Banikarim (00:00):

Hey, everyone. Before we start, just a note that we discuss domestic violence and sexual assault in this episode. It’s easy from the cheap seats to be like, “Well, what do you still love about someone who’s hurting you?” But it’s a really complicated-

Jessica Bennett (00:19):

Yeah, it’s complicated.

Susie Banikarim (00:20):

… Relationship. I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (00:25):

And I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (00:26):

This is In Retrospect, where each week we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Jessica Bennett (00:31):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Susie Banikarim (00:34):

So Jess, we just finished an episode about Robin Givens and how she was treated publicly after she admitted that her husband, Mike Tyson, the then heavyweight champion of the world, was physically abusive with her, and what the reaction to that was. There was a lot of backlash against her.

Jessica Bennett (00:51):

And if you haven’t listened to that episode, you can go back and check it out. Robin’s story is really fascinating.

Susie Banikarim (00:55):

And one thing I really thought about a lot during the research for that episode was how often this question comes up when women are in these domestic violence situations, or when women are sexually assaulted of, why did she stay or why didn’t she leave, or why didn’t she scream? That we have this expectations of our victims-

Jessica Bennett (01:14):


Susie Banikarim (01:15):

… We have a way we want victims to behave, and when they deviate from that, that’s used to somehow discredit their version of events. Somehow they’re not telling the truth, or there’s also just kind of this weirdly embedded idea in that, that it’s like women’s weakness that causes their abuse. If you were stronger, you would just get up and go.

Jessica Bennett (01:35):

You’d leave.

Susie Banikarim (01:35):

Or if you were stronger, you’d fight physically. Whereas I don’t know how much fighting back physically if you’re fighting with the heavyweight champion of the world is going to do for you. And in fact, it probably means you’re going to get hurt more, but we just have these really deeply embedded ideas in us that if you don’t fight, you somehow deserve the thing that happened to you.

Jessica Bennett (01:57):

Or that if you don’t act a certain way, you’re making it all up.

Susie Banikarim (02:02):

Right, so when I was thinking about this, I actually was thinking back to that really excellent piece you did when you were covering the E. Jean Carroll trial about, why didn’t she scream? Which was a question that the defense really put to her as a way to discredit her.

Jessica Bennett (02:17):

So, this was a case involving E. Jean Carroll, who is the former advice columnist and journalist who has accused Donald Trump of raping her in a dressing room of a department store in the 1990s, but this case was actually a defamation suit, and Trump was actually found liable for battery under New York State law and defaming her by calling her a liar when she spoke about his sexual assault. But the line of questioning that the defense in that case kept bringing up was, why E. Jean Carroll did not scream if Trump had allegedly violently assaulted her in this public dressing room? Why did she let him do it? Why didn’t she run out of the room? Why didn’t she pound and stomp her feet and scream and look, the reality, and what I found when doing this piece is that actually, that’s a really common response. People who are in a violent situation, whether it’s sexual assault or otherwise, it is common for them to one, not scream or two to actually freeze.


It’s a common brain response to a trauma. So, that’s what the scholars will tell you, and I called up all these scholars, but what was actually happening in the courtroom was Trump’s defense attorneys were just repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly asking again and again and again, “Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you tell someone sooner? Why didn’t you go to the doctor and have it reported that you were injured? Why didn’t you scream?” On and on and on and on, and I think what you’re getting at is these are the incessant questions that we ask of victims.

Susie Banikarim (03:55):

Right, and it’s so insidious because these are sort of arbitrary standards that have been set. Who decides that you have to behave a certain way when you’re being physically assaulted sexually or otherwise?

Jessica Bennett (04:08):

The people that should decide are trauma experts, but they’re not the ones being interviewed, and so it was interesting when I was doing this research to learn that actually a lot of these questions are deeply baked into the law, which actually aren’t arbitrary. The question of screaming, and many of these questions that are repeatedly asked of victims by defense attorneys, sometimes by the press and the public, they’re baked into the law. So, what I learned in talking to a historian, his name is John Wood Sweet, I want to give him credit because he explained this all to me, but basically the question of screaming can be traced back to the first recorded rape trial in US history.

Susie Banikarim (04:50):

Oh, wow.

Jessica Bennett (04:50):

Which happened in 1793. It was a man named Harry Bedlow, and he raped a 17-year-old seamstress inside a brothel. Now, in his book on that case, this historian explains how the defense of the rapist here relied on a series of questions you are supposed to ask a woman. And these were questions that had been created by Sir Matthew Hale. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he was cited in the Dobbs anti-abortion decision.

Susie Banikarim (05:18):

A man who’s been helping us for so many years.

Jessica Bennett (05:21):

He’s like this old lawmaker, and they had created this line of questioning for women that was basically like, “Okay, one, did she come from a good family?” Two, did she cry out for help? Did she fight back? Did she show signs of physical violence on her body or clothing? Did she report the crime in a timely manner? And so, these are the questions that defense attorneys are still today relying on when they question victims.

Susie Banikarim (05:47):

I know, what’s crazy about that is I was thinking recently about how in a lot of states with these abortion bans, the only way you can get an abortion is if you can prove you were raped, and that these are the questions that are going to get asked to actually qualify whether or not you can get an abortion. How do you decide if someone’s been raped or not? And so, these things do really have very real world implications, and I think they get at this idea that we don’t really understand trauma and how it impacts people and how people experience terrible things.

Jessica Bennett (06:23):

Our common understanding of this subject is like, “Why didn’t she leave or why didn’t she scream?”

Susie Banikarim (06:28):

And I think actually one thing that I thought was so interesting in the research about why women stay is that a lot of the reasons have to do with trauma bonding, which is this thing we talk about very colloquially now, I feel like-

Jessica Bennett (06:40):

Everything on Tiktok-

Susie Banikarim (06:41):

… I know is always like, “I went to work with this person and now we’re trauma bonded.” And that’s I think just a very interesting thing that these things seep into the culture and then get kind of reduced because what trauma bonding actually means is that when you’re in an abusive relationship, that cycle of abuse, the sort terrible thing that happens actually draws you closer to the abuser. There’s this bond that’s created because the way your brain sort of processes having this terrible moment and then all of this seduction afterwards that’s trying to convince you that that moment was not that important actually bonds you to your abuser.

Jessica Bennett (07:19):

We need to basically correct everyone on TikTok. Actually, I wanted to ask you, Susie, so you’ve done all this research into this, and when you were researching Robin, what are the actual reasons that she and others have given for why they did stay?

Susie Banikarim (07:49):

Well, so there’s some general reasons that we kind of just have a better understanding of now, and then I’ll get into sort of what she has said about her personal situation, but look, I think for a lot of women, there are financial reasons. A lot of women, especially if they have children, rely on their partner for their financial means and for taking care of their children. There’s also a lot of issues around children. If you leave your spouse and he is abusive to you, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get custody because it will be seen as you having abandoned your children, or you don’t want to leave your children with an abuser. That’s a very obvious one. I think there’s also a lot [inaudible 00:08:26]-

Jessica Bennett (08:25):


Susie Banikarim (08:26):

I think a lot of women, and Robin has talked about this, don’t want to admit to anyone what’s happening. So, if they don’t admit what’s happening, how are they going to explain or get help or the necessary kind of resources they need? And most abusers have spent a lot of time isolating their victims even before the physical abuse begins. So, often they don’t have resources or friends or family anymore they can rely on. They’re sort of in an isolated position.

Jessica Bennett (08:50):

Got it.

Susie Banikarim (08:51):

But I think the most interesting thing I learned is that actually it’s also extremely dangerous to leave your abuser. It’s the most likely time where a homicide occurs in an abusive relationship because so much-

Jessica Bennett (09:04):

Right after a person has left?

Susie Banikarim (09:06):

Either right before a person leaves, and they’re sort of declaring that they’re going to leave or right after because what the whole abuse is about is control, and so when the abuser starts to feel like they might lose control, that is an extremely dangerous period in the relationship.


In fact, there was a study where they interviewed men who’d killed their wives and either threats of separating or actual separations were most often the precipitating events that led to those homicides. So, we know that it’s extremely dangerous for women to leave, and also extremely dangerous for their loved ones. There’s also many cases where the abuser, when they no longer have access to the victim, actually kills other people in their lives, friends, family, et cetera, who they feel are helping them escape. So, these are the reasons experts sort of say… There’s lots of reasons, but these are the general ones that are most often cited, and then Robin Givens has herself talked a lot about the fact that she really felt this bond, this probably what would be defined now as a trauma bond with Mike Tyson. She really felt like she could save him. She felt protective of him.


Every time one of these incidents would occur, it would terrify her, but then he would be so immediately remorseful and sad and really say to her like, “I’m broken,” and she would want to fix him. And I think it’s easy from the cheap seats to be like, “Well, what do you still love about someone who’s hurting you?” But you are deeply in love with someone. It’s not just like some stranger who’s abusing you. This is someone you have a relationship with, you feel an incredible tie to-

Jessica Bennett (10:42):

And who is sick.

Susie Banikarim (10:43):

… And who is sick, who you see as ill. There’s all sorts of ways that you can rationalize that. You wouldn’t leave someone who was sick in another way, why would you leave this person? It’s a really complicated-

Jessica Bennett (10:54):

It’s complicated.

Susie Banikarim (10:55):

… Relationship, and she actually talked to Oprah about it at some point. So, Robin Givens went on Oprah when she wrote her book in 2007, and she said, “I felt like I had a purpose. I really felt like I had to protect him and love him and convince him that the world could be an okay place.” What’s fascinating is he’s physically hurting her. There’s really harrowing passages in the book, in her memoir where she’s describing him holding a knife to her throat or him chasing her around. There’s definitely some sexual assault, but what she says about it is that she wanted to take his hurt and his pain away.

Jessica Bennett (11:28):

Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim (11:29):

Because I think it’s hard to separate yourself from that person in some ways, and she finally leaves, not because she has fallen out of love with him, or even that she stops talking to him or seeing him, because she does continue to have a relationship with him even after they start going through this very nasty public divorce. She says she leaves because her family, she sees what it’s doing to her mom and her sister. And so she’s like, “I can’t continue to do this to them,” and I think that’s just like a human response, but we don’t want our victims to be human. We want them to be perfect, and Robin is this very composed, beautiful, smart woman. She’s not what we imagine when we imagine a victim.

Jessica Bennett (12:06):

Well, it’s so interesting because in her case, it was like maybe she was too beautiful and too composed, but then in other scenarios, we want them to be more composed. They’re not composed enough or it’s making me think of the Amber Herd and Johnny Depp trial, which whatever you think about that, there were many questions around her behavior, and actually it was fascinating talking to E. Jean Carroll and to her lawyers about this too when I was covering that case because the question of, do you cry on the stand? Is it too much or too little? Do you want to look put together and composed, or do you want to look a little disheveled like you’ve been hurt? And how you present yourself, all these tiny details, from your hair, to the way you’re sitting, to how much you cry, to just your voice crack, it’s almost like you have to perform, especially if you’re on the stand. I mean,

Susie Banikarim (12:52):

Right, but that’s so crazy because you’re like a victim of trauma. You’re actually going through this traumatic experience. Testifying is a traumatic experience, so then to think… I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be on display like that, and then also worry about every tiny facial movement or just how you’re being perceived.

Jessica Bennett (13:08):

And it’s so strange too, because it’s like, “Where would I have gotten the idea of what a good victim looks like?” I don’t know. It’s not something that I have thought much about, but you’re sitting there in the courtroom and you’re like, “Oh, is that believable?”

Susie Banikarim (13:21):

Right, I think we think there’s a common sense reaction to terrible things happening to you. And as someone who’s gone through enormous grief, my dad died when I was young, one thing that I have really seen a lot in my friends who are going through grief is they feel really guilty if they’re grieving in a certain way or not grieving in a certain way. And one thing I can tell you is there is no normal response to grief. Sometimes the only response is laughing, sometimes the response is silence or shutting down, and even that is often judged when people lose people in a public way, there’s often this question of why are they so numb or why aren’t they crying more.

Jessica Bennett (13:56):

Laughing is a really big… That came up in this trial as well, where she laughed at different points and she would joke about it, and that was sort of her way of making sense of it and trying to show to herself that it hadn’t broken her.

Susie Banikarim (14:08):

Right, it’s a coping mechanism to laugh.

Jessica Bennett (14:09):

Exactly, but it’s weird, people don’t understand it. And so to the original point, I do think that we may have some better understanding of trauma now, when this trauma expert got up on the stand in this case, you could hear her describe how, just like you said, almost any response is an okay response to something terrible happening because people react in all sorts of crazy ways. So, the idea of asking why did or didn’t she do X is just a misnomer.

Susie Banikarim (14:41):

Honestly, I have to say, I was really trying to think about how I came to have these ideas about how people were supposed to react, but also how I’ve come to unlearn them, and I have to say that I genuinely think… This is going to sound a little out there, but I genuinely think Law & Order: SVU has changed the culture on a lot of this stuff.

Jessica Bennett (14:57):

Oh, that’s so interesting.

Susie Banikarim (14:58):

So, much of what I’ve learned from that show is this idea that people react in all sorts of different ways. One of the things I remember learning from that show when I was quite young was that often people who are sexually assaulted will continue to maintain some sort of contact with their abuser, and that’s always used as an example of how they weren’t abused, but that is actually just a mechanism by which they’re trying to keep things normal or trying to gain control of the situation-

Jessica Bennett (15:20):

Or feel like it’s not as bad as it is.

Susie Banikarim (15:24):

Yeah, and I think that there’s lots of ways in which I think that’s show has actually moved the needle.

Jessica Bennett (15:28):

That’s so interesting. I think you’re so right.

Susie Banikarim (15:30):

And so I think we are just as a culture, trying to get a better understanding of these issues, but the fact that that happened in E. Jean Carroll, in that piece, you had so many quotes from judges and other people asking these wild ass questions.

Jessica Bennett (15:45):

Well, this is the thing, and arguably, the more stories like this that we write, and the more we talk about this, the more it normalizes this idea that you can respond in all sorts of different ways and actually stigmatizes the idea that you would ask someone why they didn’t scream. So, I looked back at all of these cases over time and things like… All right, there was a 1983 case of a woman, Cheryl Arroyo, who was gang raped and the attorney questioning her in that case said, “Well, if you’re living with a man,” she had a partner, “What are you doing running around the streets getting raped?” That’s insane, obviously.

Susie Banikarim (16:20):

Wasn’t there, that judge who was like, “Why didn’t you just lock your knees?”

Jessica Bennett (16:24):

There’s also in the Brock Turner case, which was the woman who was sexually assaulted in 2015 at Stanford, a college student. And the attorney asked, “Well, you did a lot of partying in college, right?” As if to equate that.

Susie Banikarim (16:39):

Right, And there was that crazy incident on CNN where Don Lemon asked one of Bill Cosby’s rape accusers why she didn’t just bite down on his penis. There’s just this wild cultural thing that hasn’t shifted as much as we’d like, but-

Jessica Bennett (16:54):

Yes, and it’s almost like often when these cases go to trial, which is when a lot of these questions occur, at least said out loud, either we may have stopped following or you’re not getting the trial transcripts, or you’re not in the room so you’re not actually hearing these questions asked, but even in the Harvey Weinstein case, his attorney asked one of his victims who was raped in a hotel room in 2013, “Well, why’d you stay in the room where you were attacked after you alleged this occurred?” And it’s the same kind of thing. It’s like, “Yes, sometimes people maintain some relationship to the person, sometimes they stay in the room.”

Susie Banikarim (17:30):

Well, sometimes you’re just in shock. You’re not quite ready to move or you’re afraid. It’s just a reminder that even [inaudible 00:17:39]-

Jessica Bennett (17:38):

There is no perfect victim.

Susie Banikarim (17:41):

And if you’ve gone through something or you’re going through a traumatic experience, you do not need to feel all this expectation for how you should be. You get to process things the way you process them.


This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (18:28):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (18:38):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (18:47):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (18:59):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (19:17):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.