Donald Trump knows how rape culture operates, and he’s taking advantage of it.
In an attempt to deflect attention from the cascading sexual assault accusations piling up against him, Trump took the national stage and insulted the looks, credibility, and integrity of the women who dared to come forward with their stories. The candidate is used to blaming others for his problems, but his reaction to these allegations is rather unique.
Trump isn’t just trying to attack these women; he’s signaling to others who may come forward. By metaphorically naming and shaming them, and implicitly inviting his followers (who have a history of horrifying harassment) to do the same, he wants to terrify any other women from coming forward too.
In the past 24 hours, we’ve witnessed a master class in the way powerful men get away with assault, harassment, and abuse of their power. During his first speech since his his accusers went public, Trump told a crowd of his supporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach that he was in fact the victim and one by one called all of the women liars. In a speech that was both painful and at times sickening to listen to, Trump proved exactly why women often avoid reporting assault: the very present fear that they will be publicly shamed — especially when it comes to Trump accusers — for doing so.
“These vicious claims about me, of inappropriate conduct with women, are totally and absolutely false,” he shouted a cheering crowd of supporters. He said the women’s claims were “all fabricated” and that he has evidence to prove it.
Similar to the dozens of accusers who were asked why they waited decades to report Bill Cosby’s alleged attacks, Trump laughed off some allegations because the women didn’t immediately report them.
“Why wasn't it part of the story that appeared 20 or 12 years ago? Why wasn't it part of the story?” he asked. “I was one of the biggest stars on television with The Apprentice, and I would have been one of the biggest stories of the year,” he said seemingly existing in an alternative reality where the more powerful the guy who abuses you, the cooler it is to report it.
Trump spokesperson A.J. Delgado made a similar claim while I was on set Wednesday night with Chris Hayes, when she said, “If somebody actually did that, Chris, any reasonable woman would have come forward and said something at the time.”
Any reasonable woman?
Was it reasonable for Jessica Leeds to come forward about her sexual assault only to have Lou Dobbs tweet her personal phone number and address, exposing her private information to his hundreds of thousands of followers? Was it reasonable for Natasha Stoynoff to come forward about her sexual assault only to have Donald Trump suggest she was too ugly for him to be interested in sexually assault her?
Given the way allegations are treated generally, it’s tough to say it’s reasonable for women to pursue complaints against their abusers. It’s actually extremely painful and often doesn’t even lead to justice, even in high-profile cases where women corroborate information. Take, for instance, the case against acclaimed broadcaster Jian Gomeshi where none of his accusers received justice, despite all the evidence against him.
Donald Trump has gotten away with nearly everything for which any conventional candidate would have been raked over the coals throughout his campaign. He’s encouraged his supporters to assassinate Hillary Clinton. He has repeatedly threatened to imprison Clinton if he wins the presidency; he insulted a Gold Star family and shamed a human being for having a disability. Given everything that we’ve let him get away with so far, it wouldn’t even be shocking that most of his supporters are still with him. Paul Ryan still is!
Trump may leave this scandal unscathed, but the women who are accusing him won’t. If a woman who wrote a critical story about Melania Trump received death threats, what do you think the women who are accusing Donald Trump of sexual assault are dealing with? I fear for their reputation, their privacy and their safety, and I sincerely hope that they are getting support.
What Trump did Thursday during his speech is launch a metaphorical witch hunt against the women who are claiming he assaulted them and any other women who were thinking of coming forward. It offered us a look at why so little women report and what kind of behavior men can engage in when they know that.
I didn’t report my first sexual assault because I was 9. I didn’t report my second sexual assault because I was 14. I didn’t report my third sexual assault because by the time it happened, I had internalized the idea that my body no longer belonged to me. There are plenty of reasons women and girls don’t report. What’s yours? Use the hashtag #WhyWomenDontReport to share your own.