Donald Trump and his surrogates have been trying to dismiss the leaked tape that turned his campaign upside-down as being just “locker room talk.” He did so in a written statement immediately following the tape’s release, and during Sunday night’s presidential debate when he repeatedly dodged Anderson Cooper’s direct questions about what he said on the tape.
But let’s be clear: The footage features Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.
It’s possible that Trump was boasting to Billy Bush in 2005 about something that didn’t really happen. But when Trump claims he sometimes “just start[s] kissing” a woman without warning — or that he “can do anything” to women because he’s a star, including “grab ’em by the pussy” — he is describing sexual assault.
It should be obvious why dismissing comments like that as “locker room talk” is a bad, wrong, and clueless thing to do. But just in case it’s not obvious, here are five reasons why Trump should stop doing it:
1) It makes sexual assault seem like no big deal
Trump’s comments aren't just typical lewd banter among guy friends. By claiming they are, he’s suggesting that sexual assault is a joke (which is callous), or an accomplishment (which is depraved).
It’s not clear whether Trump actually understands, or is willing to admit, that he was describing sexual assault. But by dismissing his comments as “locker room talk,” he’s also minimizing the seriousness of sexual assault and denying the reality of survivors’ experiences.
Kissing or sexually grabbing a woman without warning is sexual assault. Using your power, star or otherwise, to coerce a woman into not resisting your advances is also sexual assault. That’s true both in a legal sense and a moral one.
Maybe in Trump’s mind, it's not sexual assault unless it involves some other form of obvious physical violence, like giving a woman a black eye or holding her at gunpoint.
If he thinks that, he’s dead wrong. It's a common misconception, but it's an incredibly harmful one. Assault doesn’t always involve physically overpowering a victim; sometimes victims don’t fight back because they’re intimidated or afraid of further violence, or because they’re in shock. But submission is not the same thing as consent.
2) It’s insulting to men who don't talk or act this way. And it validates those who do.
A lot of men, athletes or no, strongly objected to the idea that it’s totally normal for men to joke about committing sexual assault when women aren’t around.
Saying this is locker room talk is offensive to men everywhere. Women, I assure you, we really aren't this bad. #debate— Adam M. Bracy (@ambracy) October 10, 2016
As a man, I find it offensive that Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault is now labeled as "guy talk."— Sabelo Jupiter (@JupiterSabelo) October 10, 2016
I'm offended as an athlete that @realDonaldTrump keeps using this "locker room talk" as an excuse.— Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers) October 10, 2016
It’s important for men in particular to speak out about this, because it helps fight rape culture — a toxic status quo wherein the seriousness of sexual assault is minimized and victims are disbelieved.
Apart from this debate and apart from the election. I'm appalled how many of you are tweeting me that talking and acting that way is ok— Chris Conley (@_flight17_) October 10, 2016
I'm done. If that's the talk you hear around you then be the place where change begins. Regardless of this election let's be a better people— Chris Conley (@_flight17_) October 10, 2016
This undecided male voter in a CNN focus group said Trump’s comments described “pure and simple sexual assault,” and that, especially coming from a “59-year-old man,” as Trump was at the time, it’s “offensive to the young men who are out playing sports and doing the right thing” to call it “locker room talk.”
3) A bunch of professional athletes are saying that nobody actually talks this way in locker rooms
For the definitive take on this, you should read the open letter to Trump that former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe posted at Vox: “Hell, I played a couple years with a guy who later turned out to be a serial rapist,” Kluwe wrote. “Even he never talked like that.”
CNN has a roundup of responses from many other pro athletes in a variety of fields. Here are a few highlights.
Oakland A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle:
As an athlete, I've been in locker rooms my entire adult life and uh, that's not locker room talk.— Sean Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) October 10, 2016
Portland Trailblazers guard CJ McCollum:
I haven't heard that one in any locker rooms https://t.co/Ci8NXOgFcI— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) October 10, 2016
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley:
Have I been in every locker room? No. But the guys I know and respect don't talk like that. They talk about girls but not like that. Period.— Chris Conley (@_flight17_) October 10, 2016
4) Trump made those comments in a professional setting, not a locker room
Trump wasn’t three beers in with his best buddies. Nor was he shooting the sexist shit with his teammates, drenched in sweat and testosterone or whatever after the big game.
He was in a suit, wearing a microphone, preparing to film a TV segment. Maybe he thought the mic was off, and maybe he and Billy Bush are more buddies than professional acquaintances. But at the time, he and Bush were still both on the clock for NBC.
It suggests that Trump thinks the appropriate time and place to talk about women this way isn’t just a “locker room,” but any place where women are not in immediate earshot — even professional settings.
5) Trump is exhibiting classic abusive behavior by minimizing his comments and refusing to take real responsibility for them
As I’ve explained, Trump uses a long list of tactics associated with emotional abuse, and minimizing is one of them. If an abuser can claim that what he did is no big deal, then he can’t be blamed or held accountable for it.
That’s what Trump did with his “locker room” comment. He tried to pass off his comments as offensive, sure, but not really that abnormal or harmful.
If Trump actually acknowledged that his comments described sexual assault, he might be forced to make a more sincere apology than he did. But he’s not going to do that, because that’s not how Trump operates.
Some psychiatrists have cautioned against armchair-diagnosing Trump with mental illnesses or personality disorders, and they’re right to do so. But we don’t need to give Trump a diagnosis to recognize and describe his patterns of behavior — or to learn from the experiences of people who have suffered under similar patterns.
Victims of domestic abuse are starting to speak out about how much Trump reminds them of their tormentors. Advocates are pointing out the classic techniques of emotional abuse that Trump uses routinely — even in public, even in settings like presidential debates.
Trump lies and bullies. He verbally abuses the women who dare to critique him. He seems pathologically incapable of accepting responsibility or admitting that he is wrong. What some people call an “I’m rubber, you’re glue” strategy — where Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of the very things his campaign is currently being accused of, from being racist to being insulting — is a tactic that abuse experts know better as “projection.”
Denying reality and shifting blame are the hallmarks of an emotional abuser, and Trump does both of these things more often, and more rampantly, than any public figure in recent memory.