Both Donald and Melania Trump have made some cringeworthy attempts to discredit People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff, who says Donald Trump pushed her up against a wall and forcibly kissed her while she was profiling him and a then-pregnant Melania in late 2005.
Donald brushed off Stoynoff’s claims by strongly suggesting that she wasn’t attractive enough to warrant his advances. “Look at her,” Trump said during a speech. “Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don't think so.”
Meanwhile, Melania threatened to sue People and demanded the story be retracted over a minor detail about an encounter Stoynoff said she had with Melania after the incident.
But on Tuesday, People published an article quoting six named sources corroborating Stoynoff’s story — both the assault and the later encounter with Melania.
Five of the sources say they heard Stoynoff talking about the incident with Trump and how much it unsettled her back in 2005.
According to Stoynoff’s account of the attack, it occurred after Melania went upstairs to change clothes. That’s when Donald told Stoynoff there was a “tremendous” room in the house that she had to see.
“We walked into that room alone, and Trump shut the door behind us,” Stoynoff wrote. “I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.” Trump also propositioned her to have an “affair,” she said.
That tracks closely with what the five witnesses say they remember from Stoynoff’s account after the incident.
People quoted Stoynoff’s friend of 25 years who says she got a call from Stoynoff the day after the attack; a former journalism professor who says Stoynoff called him in tears the night of the attack asking for advice on what to do; and three of Stoynoff’s colleagues at People.
“She was shaky, sitting at her desk, relaying that, ‘He took me to this other room, and when we stepped inside, he pushed me against a wall and stuck his tongue down my throat. Melania was upstairs and could have walked in at any time,’” said Mary Green, deputy East Coast news editor for People.
The sixth source, Stoynoff’s friend Lisa Herz, said that she remembered walking with Stoynoff when they encountered Melania on the street, and that the two “chatted in a friendly way” — which contradicts Melania’s claims to the contrary and the basis for her threats to sue People.
Stoynoff’s story shows why it’s so hard for many victims to go public
The Trump campaign has flatly denied Stoynoff’s allegation, as it has done for the other 11 women who have accused Trump of sexual assault either now or in the past.
Denying these accounts essentially means calling the accusers liars. But these denials have gone further: attacks on the women’s characters, attacks on their looks, threats to sue the journalistic outlets that have published (and vetted, often with multiple corroborating witnesses) the women’s accounts.
It’s nasty stuff. But it’s also a sadly predictable example of what can happen to victims of sexual assault when they come forward — especially when they accuse a powerful man. And it helps explain why many victims wait years or even decades to report their assault, if they ever report at all.
“The power dynamic that allows an assault to happen in the first place is the same power dynamic that can make it so difficult for victims to have their stories heard in the aftermath,” Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained.
The account from Stoynoff’s journalism professor, Paul McLaughlin, is a perfect example of this. McLaughlin says Stoynoff called him in tears the night of the attack, and that he advised her not to say anything publicly because of how Trump might retaliate.
It was tough decision but in a he said/she said we believed she would lose. He seemed rather nasty at the time.— Paul McLaughlin (@paulmcl) October 14, 2016
“She wasn’t sure what she should do,” McLaughlin told People. “I advised her not to say anything, because I believed Trump would deny it and try to destroy her.”
It’s a common fear, and many perpetrators know that. It’s why many of them think they can get away with what they’re doing, and why many of them do indeed get away with it for decades.
But in reality, sexual assault often isn’t just a “he-said she-said” situation. There may be multiple “shes” saying the same thing about one “he” — as in Trump’s case, and as in other high-profile cases like that of Bill Cosby and Roger Ailes.
And many victims, like Stoynoff is alleged to be, have other witnesses to back them up — friends or family whom they told about their attack, even if they didn’t “go public” right away. And contemporaneous accounts from corroborating witnesses like these add a lot of credibility to victims’ stories.