The second presidential debate offered Mr. Trump an opportunity to clarify whether what he boasted about was inappropriate but only talk, or whether he had acted on those views. After being pushed on this point several times by the moderator Anderson Cooper, he said that he had not.
This triggered a number of women to come forward publicly in their effort to set the record straight. While a number of prominent Republicans rescinded their endorsements – perhaps most notably Senator John McCain – with Speaker Paul Ryan and others not formally rescinding endorsements but declaring no intention to campaign on behalf of Mr. Trump, some surrogates continue to maintain that the comments in the tape were “locker room talk” and question the motives of these women given the timing.
At least two things have been raised in the discussion here, that bear emphasis.
- There were questions as to the timing of the accusers coming forward this late in the campaign. The explanation has been that in the aftermath of the tape revelation as well as frustration with regard to Mr. Trump’s insisting that he had not acted on his abhorrent comments, thus creating an impetus to speak out.
- There were further questions as to the legitimacy of claims with regard to quite old claims of sexual assault. Corey Lewandowski and others raised numerous questions as to why they would not have spoken out much sooner, such as shortly after the assaults. This was in many times a point made in conjunction with allegations that the claims were either politically motivated or else for fifteen minutes of fame.
This does an immense disservice to all women who have experienced rape and other forms of sexual assault, which is already one of the least reported crimes. And it is not difficult to understand why many would not want to discuss their assaults:
It is deeply personal and for many, embarrassing.
They may continue to blame themselves for the event based on how much they drank or what they wore.
It involves someone exploiting a position of power, and in the aftermath of that assault one may feel devoid of the ability to reclaim control.
They may fear that they will not be believed.
They may not want to acknowledge how vulnerable a position they were placed in.
They may want to forget about the event because recounting the details may feel triggering and retraumatizing.
To spend time detailing one’s sexual assault, and on national television no less, is emotionally grueling. It involves recounting each painful and deeply personal detail to support the legitimacy of one’s claim. Those who do come forward often take a long time to do so. To allege that taking time to report an assault makes a claim less than legitimate is to not understand rape, assault, or harassment, and it is this deep ignorance that has been in full force since the revelation of the Access Hollywood tape and the subsequent allegations that he acted on his words.
Mr. Trump’s surrogates have leaped to defend their candidate to the point of questioning the motives of these women (not to mention refuting one of the allegations with a clearly false story crafted in the New York Post), and in doing so highlight the very reason why women are reluctant. Having such public questioning of the legitimacy of these women’s allegations on the national stage could potentially have egregious consequences for further hesitancy regarding coming forward with their own claims. And when people are aware that crimes will likely go unreported, there sadly is more freedom to perpetuate such assault and harassment.
Mr. Trump may be shifting from fame to infamy, but should not drag the conversation even further to reduce the already too-rare reporting of sexual assaults.