In a New York City courtroom on Friday, former actor Jessica Mann—who alleges that Harvey Weinstein raped and sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions in 2013—gave detailed descriptions of his body and genitals, claiming that he “smelled like shit” and “had a lot of blackheads” on his back. But it was this testimony that drew the most attention: “The first time I saw him fully naked, I thought he was deformed and intersex. He has an extreme scarring that I didn’t know, maybe [he] was a burn victim,” she said. Mann also alleged that Weinstein “does not have testicles, and it appears that he has a vagina.”
Graphic descriptions of genitals have played roles in several other high-profile allegations of sexual abuse and harassment. They’re usually introduced in an attempt to corroborate the alleged victim’s claim that he or she has seen the genitals of the accused. During one 2009 deposition, Jeffrey Epstein was asked whether his penis was “egg-shaped,” as one accuser had said. In 1993, when the Los Angeles Police Department was looking into allegations that Michael Jackson had sexually abused 13-year-old Jordan Chandler, investigators had Chandler draw a picture of Jackson’s penis. Jackson had vitiligo, a skin condition that causes discoloration, and Chandler’s drawing included some distinctive markings. Later that year, police forced Jackson to undress and took photos of his penis, prompting Jackson to deliver a televised denial of the allegations, in which he called the strip search “the most humiliating ordeal of my life, one that no person should ever have to suffer.” Though police found that Chandler’s drawing was accurate, prosecutors dropped the charges against Jackson when Chandler stopped cooperating.
In 1994, Jackson settled a civil suit filed by Chandler for $23 million. That same year, Paula Jones filed a legal complaint alleging that Bill Clinton had exposed himself to her, fondled himself in front of her, and asked her to “kiss” his penis. “There were distinguishing characteristics in Clinton’s genital area that were obvious to Jones,” the claim said. A judge barred Jones from explaining those characteristics before her case went to trial (which it never did). Still, Jones’ team put forth that claim of “distinguishing characteristics” as proof that Clinton had shown her his penis.
In response, Clinton’s personal lawyer obtained sworn statements from multiple doctors that refuted the existence of any abnormalities, then delivered one of the most indelible lines of Clinton’s presidency. “In terms of size, shape, direction, whatever the devious mind wants to concoct, the president is a normal man,” the lawyer said. “There are no blemishes, there are no moles, there are no growths.”
It later came out that Jones wasn’t referring to a skin condition, but to the suggestion that Clinton’s penis tilted at an angle. (Meanwhile, Monica Lewinsky—though she didn’t want to go into any details herself—allegedly disagreed with Jones’ assessment during conversations with prosecutors before she appeared before Ken Starr’s grand jury.) Jones’ first lawyer said Jones had never mentioned any “distinguishing characteristics” to him—that it wasn’t until she changed legal teams that she made that particular claim—which some have used to argue that Jones invented or embellished her story.
It’s not entirely clear why Mann decided to include a description of Weinstein’s body and genitals in her testimony. Weinstein’s defense team isn’t trying to prove that these women never saw his genitals, or that they’re fabricating the sexual encounters. His attorneys are arguing that they happened, but that they were consensual. Weinstein attorney Donna Rotunno has characterized the encounters as “regret sex.” “I think it’s easy to look back and say, ‘Oh, you know, maybe I didn’t love that experience,’” she told Vanity Fair. She said the women who are accusing Weinstein were “using” him by implicitly trading sex for career advancement: “They didn’t look at Harvey and say, ‘Oh my god, he’s the most gorgeous guy I’ve ever seen and I want to go to his hotel room.’ They looked at Harvey and said, ‘Harvey can do something for me.’”
Even if Mann’s account of Weinstein’s genitals is accurate, Rotunno can still argue that what Mann calls rape was actually consensual sex that Mann came to regret. Mann may be trying to elicit feelings of repulsion from the jury to bias them against Weinstein or sow disbelief that a beautiful woman in her 20s would elect to have consensual sex with a man whose body meets the description she offered in court. But Rotunno seems to have anticipated Mann’s evident disgust with Weinstein’s body, too, by portraying the sex as transactional.