Election’s Rape and Sexual Assault Accusations Need to Be Taken Seriously

Published on
by

Election’s Rape and Sexual Assault Accusations Need to Be Taken Seriously

Protesters organized by the National Organization for Women gather near the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York City this month, as allegations about Donald Trump emerged in the wake of The Washington Post’s bombshell report about his 2005 “Access Hollywood” hot-mic comments on women. (Photo: Frank Franklin II / AP)

Less than a day after the third and final 2016 presidential debate, GOP nominee Donald Trump faced new accusations from a woman who recounted a story of her sexual assault at his hands. Karena Virginia told members of the press how Trump groped her in public at the U.S. Open in 1998 while asking, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Two days later, two more women, Kristin Anderson and Summer Zervos, made similar allegations. Earlier this year, a woman named Katie Johnson said Trump raped her in 1994 when she was 13 years old; she filed a lawsuit against him that was later thrown out on a technicality. Trump’s ex-wife, Ivana Trump, has also accused him of raping her. To date a dozen women have publicly alleged that Trump in some way assaulted them.

Jane Piper, an activist who faced her rapist in court in 2014, told me in an interview that she believes the women who have accused Trump. “I take their word as their word, and I believe them,” she said. “We have this documented evidence of [Trump’s] attitude and behavior toward women,” added Piper, referring to his numerous public statements revealing a callous and disrespectful attitude toward women. To Piper, the idea that Trump might be a serial perpetrator of sexual assault is consistent with his language and the attitude he has publicly displayed.

Think about Bill Cosby. While he has not been convicted on charges of sexual assault, in the court of public opinion, he is already considered guilty. He has admitted to drugging women in order to have sex with them, and the sheer volume of accusers against him leaves one wondering: “How could they possibly all be lying?” As Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked Trump during the final presidential debate, “Why would so many different women from so many different circumstances, from so many different years, why would they all ... make up these stories?”

 

Fall Fundraising Banner

Indeed, in cases such as those involving Cosby and Trump, there is little to be gained by publicly proclaiming oneself the victim of rape and assault. All a woman gains is to be forever known as someone who accused a famous man of a vile crime. According to Piper, “It is not comfortable to be known in this way. It makes no sense, and it is ridiculous and offensive and insulting” to imply that a woman might make it all up for fame.

Like Cosby, Trump has bragged about assaulting women. In a now infamous recording obtained by The Washington Post, Trump revealed to TV host Billy Bush that he simply has his way with women: “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” And, as in Cosby’s case, women are emerging from the woodwork as the election looms to reveal sordid stories about Trump’s alleged assaults on them.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

One major difference here is that Cosby is an actor (who will indeed face the accusations against him in court), while Trump is running for the highest office in the nation. While all men, including Cosby, need to be held to high standards on sexual assault, those who run for president deserve the utmost scrutiny.

Piper dismissed the response by Trump’s supporters that the timing of the accusations now emerging is suspect. “Of course, this timing is perfect,” she told me, “because [Trump’s accusers] just listened to him in that video describe what he did and [be] proud of it, and the next day, in the debate, lie and say that he never ever actually did that.” Piper said that if she had been one of the women who had alleged assault by Trump, she “would be doing everything in my power to make sure that the public knew what kind of person this man was so that they would know what kind of leader they were choosing to elect.” Essentially, anyone running for president of the United States should expect his or her past and present to be scrutinized under the most stringent of microscopes.

“Womanizing,” or having affairs, as presidential candidate Gary Hart was accused of in 1987, is very different from being accused of sexual assault or rape. Hart was brought down by a media frenzy that began with a single, provocative photograph. Trump is heading straight into an election dogged by repeated accusations of crimes—not affairs—and all he has offered are simplistic denials and deflections.

Rape is not a minor phenomenon in the U.S. It is not something that used to happen regularly but has now subsided. It is not something that happens only in other countries. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one in six American women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. Campus rape incidents are particularly rampant, with female college students three times more likely to be raped than women in the general public.

Piper pointed out that women who have suffered the worst forms of sexual violence, such as rape and battery, “so often ... do not get to see justice because it’s basically their word against the perpetrator’s, and often, district attorneys don’t even want to bring it trial because they see that they will never win.” She added, “This happens over and over and over again.” Women who are touched, grabbed, kissed or violated in a way that is less severe than rape are even less likely to be taken seriously and are simply expected to walk away and forget it ever happened.

That a man who is running for the nation’s highest office is being accused of sexual assault by so many women ought to be extremely disturbing to all Americans. Indeed, new polls show that American women are rejecting Trump by large margins, so much so that some Trump supporters took to Twitter to call for a repeal of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

The fact that so many men are willing to back Trump despite his sexist attitudes, his bragging about sexual assault and the chorus of women accusing him of assaulting them is a hugely depressing statement on our society. The GOP nominee seems to embody the most regressive streak in the nation—one that is dangerously close to being represented in the White House.

Sonali Kolhatkar

Sonali Kolhatkar

Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and executive producer of Uprising, a daily radio program at KPFK Pacifica Radio, soon to be on Free Speech TV (click here for the campaign to televise Uprising). She is also the Director of the Afghan Women's Mission, a US-based non-profit that supports women's rights activists in Afghanistan and co-author of "Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence."

Share This Article