Opinion: Elizabeth Holmes can be two things at once

On Monday, Holmes testified in her own criminal trial, where she faces fraud charges related to her disgraced blood-testing company, Theranos. Holmes claims her company is working on a breakthrough machine that can run an entire series of blood tests on a small amount of blood. In fact, prosecutors say, Holmes and the company’s executives lied to investors about the machines’ capabilities: The tests were often inaccurate, some of the test results without the company is noting is not running on Theranos machine at all. , and the company even sent false results to some consumers. Holmes has been charged with 11 counts of telephone fraud and conspiracy to commit electronic fraud.

In her recent testimony, Holmes said she dropped out of Stanford after being raped, and later found herself in a relationship with Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, whom she alleged was abusive and controlling. . Balwani continues as COO of Theranos and is also on trial for fraud. Both pleaded not guilty and faced up to 20 years in prison; Balwani’s trial will begin in early 2022.

Holmes testified to what Balwani called shots in their relationship, and she was largely under his grip. Balwani deceived her, she said, and controlled her. In a trial where fraudulent intent is central to proving guilt, Holmes’ state of mind and her intentions are directly related.

But everyone’s life is complicated, and two things can be immediately true: Holmes can be a survivor of sexual violence and intimate partner, and she can also be guilty of fraud.

If Holmes’ testimony is true, it only makes Holmes and Balwani’s relationship clearer. He’s 20 years older than her, the age gap might be less of an issue if she’s in her 70s and he’s in his 90s, but the important thing is that they met when she was 18 and just out of high school, while he was a 40-year-old promotion software executive. And Holmes’ testimony painted a troubling picture of the internal workings of their relationship. According to her, Balwani manipulated everything from her leadership strategy to what she ate to how much she slept, Holmes said. She testified that he also forced her to have sex. (Balwani refused alleged abuse.)

Balwani, Holmes testified, “told me that I didn’t know what I was doing in business, that my beliefs were false, that he was surprised at my mediocrity,” and he said to seek successful, “I need to kill who I am.” He’s older, more experienced, and more successful, so she trusts him and doesn’t question him, she said. According to Holmes, she believed her company’s labs were doing very well until a government investigation in California shut down the Theranos blood testing lab there, which was under control. of Balwani – and the state imposed a two-year ban on Holmes from operating any lab. That’s when she realized, she said, that “he wasn’t what I thought he was.”

Elizabeth Holmes reacts during cross-examination in federal court in San Jose, California, on Tuesday, November 30, when she was asked to read texts between her and former COO of Theranos Ramesh
If Holmes is telling the truth in her testimony, she certainly deserves sympathy for what she’s endured, at university and in her relationship with Balwani. Sexual violence and controlled and abusive relationships are soul-breaking; especially the latter can cause victims to do things they never believed they could do. Some beaten women, for example, defending their abusers and continuing to live with them – even as the abuse becomes prominent to their children. In doing so, they are said to be facilitating child abuse – but that is because they themselves are being abused, to the point where they believe they have no other choice. Their liability must be filtered through what we know about how abuse causes people to psychologically break down.

But Holmes was not just a victim of violence and abuse. She also runs a company. She is endowed with an extraordinary strength and is aware of the clear rules and responsibilities that come with her position. Her decisions and choices have greatly impacted the lives and livelihoods of many people (and their money).

As the founder and chief executive officer of Theranos, ultimate responsibility for how the company operates rests with both her and COO Balwani. Nothing about their relationship or what else she incurs shall relieve her of her professional liability to the company, its shareholders and all deceived consumers. – and those who have put their health at risk by Theranos’ false claims.

Sexual assault and domestic abuse can happen to anyone, but it happens to women more often It happens to men and men get it more often than women. It benefits all of us if we understand how abuse and manipulation really affect victim decision-making.

But as we broaden our understanding of abusive relationships, we need not assume that all abused women are incompetent or childish for which they are not responsible. about any aspect of life. We can trust Holmes’ testimony that Balwani abused her and still assume that she also violated her obligations to the company and the public – and that surviving abuse is not is a parole card for fraud.


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