Keith Raniere’s motion to preclude the prosecution’s expert witnesses has been denied.
Raniere’s arguments that the prosecution’s notice to him was late, and that the experts’ testimony is unreliable and prejudicial did not persuade Judge Nicholas Garaufis.
Dr. Stuart Grassian and Dr. Dawn Hughes will be permitted to testify and what they have to say might be pretty damning for the Vanguard.
Dr. Grassian is a board-certified psychiatrist who taught at Harvard Medical School for over 25 years. His expertise is solitary confinement, and the judge ruled this is relevant to “allegations in a racketeering act identified in the Second Superseding Indictment: specifically, that Jane Doe 4 [Dani] was confined to a room [for almost two years] while being subject to forced labor and document servitude.”
Dr. Grassian is expected to testify that: (1) severe restriction of social, perceptual and occupational stimulation—including lack of human contact, restriction of physical activity, lack of occupational stimulation, repetition of routine, and stagnancy of environment—has a profoundly deleterious effect on mental functioning;
(2) individuals who experience environmental restriction often become incapable of maintaining an adequate state of alertness and attention to the environment and may experience agitated confusional states
(3) individuals who experience environmental restriction often develop severe anxiety and panic disorders
(4) individuals who experience environmental restriction may become suicidal and self-destructive
(5) there are documented examples of environmental restriction being used to weaken individuals and make them more susceptible to indoctrination
(6) individuals experiencing environmental restriction often experience fear and helplessness because they have to depend entirely on others.
It is not known if Dr. Grassian will also testify on the psychiatric effects of lack of sleep and severe calorie restriction.
Raniere argued that, because Dr. Grassian’s work focuses primarily on the impact of solitary confinement on prison inmates, his expertise is inapplicable to Dani’s case, since she was not a prison inmate.
Dr. Grassian’s work, the prosecution notes, includes non-prison settings, including isolation in aviation, small-group confinement (on expeditions, in submarines, and in Antarctic stations), solo voyages, medically required isolation like bed rest and tank-type respirators, and sensory deprivation laboratories.
The judge ruled that Raniere’s argument is an overly narrow assessment of Dr. Grassian’s expertise, and that “His curriculum vitae makes clear that he is an expert with regard to the psychological effects of restricted and isolated conditions of prolonged confinement.”
The second expert witness, Dr. Hughes, is a board certified forensic psychologist and clinical psychologist, a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, and an expert on sexual abuse, interpersonal violence, and traumatic stress.
She has had ‘extensive clinical experience treating hundreds of trauma and abuse patients over the past twenty years,” the prosecution says in its court filings.
Dr. Hughes is expected to testify
(1) the vast majority of sexual assault victims know their perpetrators;
(2) victims routinely fail to formally report sexual assault for a variety of reasons
 the evaluation of the “legitimacy” of a sexual assault should not be based on whether a victim reported the event to law enforcement;
(3) victims frequently utilize ‘informal strategies’ and disclosure to cope with sexual assault, including: revealing only partial details of their assault, “talking around” assault and not labeling it as such, utilizing defense mechanisms of avoidance, dissociation and suppression;
(4) disclosure by sexual assault victims often unfolds over time and the process of disclosure is influenced by multiple and changing factors including the specific characteristics of the experience, the victim’s psychological vulnerabilities, the victim’s relationship to her perpetrator and her pattern of recovery and coping;
5) sexual assault can result in severe, long-lasting psychological consequences and related difficulties, and can complicate the choice of a victim to formally report assault;
(6) sexual assault victims may maintain relationships with their perpetrators and this is often influenced by the dynamic between the victim and perpetrator, including whether the victim and perpetrator are in intimate or work relationships characterized by abuse, coercion and/or dependence;
(7) false recanting or failure to cooperate with prosecution efforts may occur in situations of interpersonal victimization.
There is an eighth category that Dr. Hughes has been asked to testify about that is in dispute and Judge Garaufis has not yet ruled that she may testify.
That is that:
(8) perpetrators often use “grooming” techniques on adult and child victims to normalize sexual behaviors and make their victims more susceptible to assault.
Raniere takes particular issue with Dr. Hughes’s eighth opinion. He pointed out that the first seven topics on which Dr. Hughes is expected to testify all relate to the psychology of victims, not perpetrators. Raniere contends that the government has not shown any evidence that Dr. Hughes is an expert on perpetrators.
Raniere also argues that Dr. Hughes’s proposed testimony on grooming techniques will be unduly prejudicial because it suggests “that persons who commit sexual crimes share certain characteristics or that there are typical circumstances under which sexual assaults take place thereby suggesting that the defendant is included in this group and meets the profile of typical sex offenders.”
The judge agreed in part with Raniere. The judge pointed out that Dr. Hughes, as far as he know, “has never testified in court or provided expert reports as to this opinion [about perpetrators grooming victims] before. … [H]er extensive academic and clinical experience appears focused on victims of sexual abuse, not perpetrators.”
Before deciding whether Dr. Hughes may testify as to the 8th opinion the judge will hold a hearing to determine whether Dr. Hughes’s opinion regarding sexual abusers’ use of grooming techniques is sufficiently reliable.
The other 7 opinions she is permitted to testify before the jury.
Raniere argument that Dr. Hughes’s testimony regarding delayed disclosure of sexual assault victims is unnecessary because “[t]he witnesses in this case are all adults who are capable of providing… reasons for their delayed or piecemeal disclosures and the jury does not need help from an expert to evaluate their explanations,” was also denied.
The judge ruled that “This testimony may be probative in that it may corroborate witnesses’ explanations for their delayed disclosures.”
Overall, this was not a very good ruling for Raniere. Two experts will take the stand – it is not clear when – and they will have a lot to say about solitary confinement – and how sexual victims – may have been damaged in ways that may have prevented them from making accurate or seemingly timely disclosures of their own victimization.
This may go a long way to upset the defense’s contention that everything was consensual – just a kinky fun group of now-regretful ladies and their fun loving teacher – instead of one diabolical, perverted and brutal sex offender – who called himself Vanguard – using manipulation, deception, coercion, extortion, and with his Bronfman-funded fortune and his evil-minded little female minions – who cast a wide net of psychological terrorism – or worse – over scores of victims for decades.
What might circumstantially appear as the actions of adult, intelligent women doing things consensually with their Vanguard may have been – every inch of the way – the exact opposite.
We will look forward to the expert’s testimony.