In the haze of the impeachment trials and never-ending onslaught of criminal accusations, I think it can sometimes slip our minds that our president is a rapist. Despite the rise of the #MeToo movement, we still live in a world that protects privileged perpetrators and powerful men from facing the repercussions of their actions. Trump, with over 20 long-standing sexual assault allegations against him, represents a degradation of the role of president, and the treatment of these cases is setting a terrible precedent for how sexual assault is handled elsewhere.
In October of last year, Karen Johnson revealed that Trump had grabbed her vagina and assaulted her at a party. We should all remember the memorable recording in which Trump said, “grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.” In response to Karena Virginia’s allegations that Trump sexually harassed and groped her, a Trump campaign spokesman told the Washington Post that, “Voters are tired of these circus-like antics and reject these fictional stories and the clear efforts to benefit Hillary Clinton.”
This rhetoric of gaslighting and demeaning accusers is horrific, and one of the reasons that the majority of rape cases are not reported. E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of sexual assault last June, saying that he cornered and raped her back in the 1990s. Trump dismissed her by saying, “Number one, she’s not my type,” which is exemplative of the prevalent image that women are objects for men’s pleasure, especially powerful men who have learned that they will not be held accountable for their actions.
The terrifying truth is that despite Trump, Weinstein and Kavanaugh’s insistence that they are innocent, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that one out of every five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Rape is happening every day, everywhere. Up to 25 percent of women are victims of sexual assault during their college years, and more than 90 percent of victims do not report their assaults for a variety of reasons, including the reality that their rapists will never be convicted. False reporting of assaults is negligible at as low as 2 percent. Many rapists are repeat offenders, meaning that when they are let off the hook, they are very likely to continue to sexually assault people. We live in a society where we are surrounded by institutions that feel that it is more important to protect the reputations of rapists than the safety of women.
I believe we have to do better. As a country, and as a community, we need to give victims a platform from which to be heard, and most importantly, from which to be believed. Our culture has disincentivized women (and a smaller but important group of men) from asking for help. Trump’s very existence is reinforcing the idea that powerful people (mostly men) can do whatever they want. We cannot allow this rhetoric to remain the standard, and we must step forward to raise the bar for how sexual assault is handled in our own communities.