TW: mentions sexual assault and rape.
Written by Courtney, edited by Jasmine
Rape culture is the systems and attitudes within society that encourage men to feel entitled to women’s bodies and cause women to feel unable to protect or advocate for themselves. This system normalizes sexual assault and rape by failing to hold people accountable. The recent MeToo movement brought to light the fact that many men with power and influence were using it to take advantage of women.
A prime example of this dynamic is none other than the current President of the United States, Donald Trump. To date, 24 women have accused Trump of everything from ogling and groping to assault and rape. Each individual case brings a different story of objectification and fear. Many of the women who have come forward did so in 2016, after the release of the “Access Hollywood Tape” by the Washington Post. The video recorded a conversation between Trump and TV personality Billy Bush, in which they objectify and sexualize women, including this quote from Trump.
“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…Grab ’em by the pu**y. You can do anything.” (Washington Post)
With Trump running for President, many of the women began to tell their stories, to share their experiences with the public. Trump flatly denies all the claims, addressing some of the allegations individually. After Natasha Stoynoff came forward with her story of being assaulted by Trump at his estate in 2005, he responded by saying “look at her… I don’t think so” (Huffpost). This attitude, of acting as though it is a woman’s attractiveness that makes her likely to be assaulted, and not the assaulter, is further example of rape culture. Attitudes such as this perpetuates the attitude in men that it is not their fault if they assault someone so long as that person is attractive. The effect of assaults such as these is immediate and lasting. Karena Virginia is one such example of this. She accused Trump of harassing and groping her on the street outside an event in 1998. Virginia accounted that while assaulting her, Trump repeatedly said “don’t you know who I am?” (HuffPost). Virginia says she changed the way she dressed and acted because of the incident. These are just some examples out of many in which victims of Trump’s alleged assault felt powerless in the situation and ashamed after.
Currently, two women are suing Trump for defamation over his response to their sexual assault claims. E. Jean Carroll recently published a book that contained her account of rape at the hands of Trump in a department store dressing room in the mid 1990’s. Trump vehemently denied the accusation, calling Carroll a liar who was just intent on selling a book, going so far as to say that he had never met her (NYT). Trump and Carroll can be seen having met and taken a picture together in the 1980s, clearly disproving that claim. Trump also said that he could not have raped her because “she’s not my type” (NYT). Carroll is currently suing Trump for defamation, citing these attacks and others on her character. Carroll told reporters that she is “filing this lawsuit not just for myself but for every woman in America who has been grabbed, groped, harassed, sexually assaulted and has spoken up and still has been disgraced, shamed or fired” (Washington Post).
Summer Zervos is also suing Trump for defamation after he called her a liar when she came forward with claims of sexual assault. She was a contestant on Trump’s TV show “The Apprentice” and says the she reached out to him for career advice after leaving the show. She alleges that on two separate occasions Trump groped and assaulted her. Recently, a New York judge denied Trump’s bid to delay the suit because Trump is the sitting President, citing the Supreme court ruling that a Manhattan district attorney could subpoena the President’s tax returns. This means that Zervos and Carroll’s suits will go forward.
These suits will play out over the next months and years, but the important thing to remember as they do is how one’s perception of the people involved changes. For many Americans, the news that Trump has been accused of sexual assault seems trivial or unimportant in the complete scope of his presidency. This desensitization can make issues of sexual assault feel unimportant, but they are not. Educating yourself and others on issues of sexual assault, especially those involving people with power, is extremely important in combatting rape culture.