During the second presidential debate, CNN moderator Anderson Cooper questioned Donald Trump if he had ever committed sexual assault. At first, Trump attempted to dodge the question, changing the topic to ISIS. But, after Cooper persisted with his questioning about the verity of the leaked Access Hollywood tape, Trump said, “No, I have not.”
In the several days following this debate in which Cooper cornered the GOP presidential candidate, at least ten women have come forward with public accusations against Trump for sexually inappropriate behavior, including sexual assault. As BuzzFeed culture editor Saeed Jones pointed out on Twitter, “Rape culture isn’t just pervasive; it’s also running for president.”
Rape culture isn’t just pervasive; it’s also running for president.— Saeed Jones (@theferocity) October 13, 2016
In a first-person essay published on People magazine’s site on Wednesday night, journalist Natasha Stoynoff recounted when Trump forced himself onto her during her trip to Mar-a-Lago for Melania and Trump’s first wedding anniversary.
Unfortunately, Trump's reactions to Stoynoff's accusations of sexual assault only reiterate why survivors hesitate to come forward.
Stoynoff covered the Trump beat for People back in 2005, and wrote that she and the Trumps “had a very friendly, professional relationship.” Things turned for the worse when she and the real estate mogul were waiting for his wife to come into the room before the interview.
She then wrote that Trump was physically aggressive toward her and shoved his tongue into her mouth. As Stoynoff wrote, “Within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.”
Stoynoff explained in her essay why she chose not to come forward sooner. She wrote, "Like many women, I was ashamed and blamed myself for his transgression. I minimized it ('It's not like he raped me...')."
Trump, his campaign, and even some of his allies have fiercely denied this and other claims, chalking up the stories as "fabrication" and liberal media’s attempt at covering up the WikiLeaks release of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The Republican presidential hopeful even went as far as to victim-blame the accusers. In a tweet, Trump publicly shamed Stoynoff, essentially saying that she should have come forward sooner with her allegations if they were true.
Why didn't the writer of the twelve year old article in People Magazine mention the "incident" in her story. Because it did not happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2016
The phony story in the failing @nytimes is a TOTAL FABRICATION. Written by same people as last discredited story on women. WATCH!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2016
Speaking about the allegations at a rally on Thursday, Trump told a West Palm Beach audience, “These claims are all fabricated, they’re pure fiction, and they’re outright lies. These events never, ever happened.”
Trump allies have also set out to embarrass the alleged assault survivors. Business Insider reported Thursday that Fox Business News anchor Lou Dobbs retweeted personal information about Jessica Leeds, who told The New York Times that Trump had assaulted her.
Dobbs’ retweet was of a tweet belonging to avid Trump supporter Michael Delauzon, and has since been deleted considering that Twitter’s privacy code was infringed upon. Delauzon had shared Leeds’ home address and phone number, furthering the Trump campaign’s attempt to smear the assault survivors by endangering them. Dobbs made a public apology.
However, Stoynoff’s description of the assault echoes Trump’s own comments which he made on the "Access Hollywood" tape. On the leaked tape, Trump can be heard saying to Billy Bush that he has sexually assaulted women and believes he can get away with it since he’s famous.
Trump said, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Just as Stoynoff expressed initial hesitation, survivors of sexual assault often don’t wish to come forward with what happened to them because — in part — they fear that people won’t believe what happened to them or that people will side with the perpetrator.
For instance, in September, a high school student reported that she was sexually assaulted by a classmate, and she herself ended up being suspended. The Twitter thread for #WhyWomenDon'tReport highlights this sobering phenomenon of the backlash women and girls face if they come forward.
Inevitably, many on social media have shamed these sexual assault survivors. A rightwing Twitter hashtag #NextFakeTrumpVictim has emerged from Trump supporters and proponents of society’s rape culture, who are putting blame on liberal media for pushing a pro-Clinton agenda.
Of course, the hashtag wouldn’t have existed in the first place if there weren’t actual victims who have only corroborated things which Trump himself has been caught saying. Furthermore, women who report sexual violence should not be punished for speaking out.
As a case in point, Trump insulted Stoynoff's appearance after People published her account. He reportedly said, "Take a look. You take a look. Look at her. Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don't think so. I don't think so."
In reaction, Trump has threatened The New York Times with libel for publishing his alleged history of sexual assault, but neither the accused nor the publisher is backing down. Vulture journalist Mark Harris tweeted a letter from the Times, saying, “The New York Times replies to Trump’s threat. Insert fire emoji here.”
The New York Times replies to Trump's threat. Insert fire emoji here. pic.twitter.com/5BE71kgzt1— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) October 13, 2016
Trump is handling these sexual assault allegations with his usual tactics of denial, lack of personal accountability, and blaming the media. And yet, Trump has bragged about his unsolicited sexual aggression towards women.
As The Times wrote in justifying their reports, “It would have been a disservice not just to our readers but to democracy itself to silence their voices.”
Banner photo credit: Reuters