After six women came forward in the past twenty-four hours with allegations of having been groped and sexually harassed by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the candidate himself addressed these claims at a rally this afternoon, Oct. 13, in Palm Beach, Florida.
Trump told supporters, “These claims are all fabricated. They’re pure fiction, and they’re outright lies. These events never, ever happened and the people that said them meekly fully understand.”
He added, “We already have substantial evidence to dispute these lies, and it will be made public in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time, very soon.”
Trump’s remarks negating and denying the allegations made by women — thus far, two in The New York Times, one in People magazine, one in the Palm Beach Post, and two in Buzzfeed News — is, unfortunately, not an uncommon response that survivors of sexual violence hear, especially from those they are accusing.
A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Community Psychology notes that rape survivors, for example, who speak out about their sexual assault experiences are often punished for doing so when they are subjected to negative reactions from support providers, resulting in a “silencing function” that stops many survivors from talking about their experiences to anyone, ever. The researchers note how “silence is thus emblematic of powerlessness in our society” — an unsurprising side effect of negative social reactions like blaming or doubting victims that results in survivors choosing to remain silent. They determined that there are four general types of negative reactions experienced by survivors who come forward with their stories: being blamed, receiving insensitive reactions, experiencing ineffective disclosures — that is, receiving inadequate help after reporting their assault, and receiving inappropriate support from friends and family. Ultimately, the researchers concluded, the negative consequences faced by survivors who disclose is what often keeps survivors from disclosing in the first place.
Par for the course, not only did Trump call out his accusers at Thursday’s rally, but also took to Twitter to further attempt to negate their stories. Over 50,000 people “liked” the tweets in which Trump attacked his accusers.
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
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
Trump’s response is unfortunately exactly the kind of move that further stigmatizes survivors and prevents them from reporting their own assaults.
Speaking with Yahoo Beauty earlier this summer, Candice Lopez, the director of the National Sexual Assault Hotline, noted how crimes of sexual violence “are the only crimes where we put blame on the victim of the crime. But the only person who is responsible is the person who committed the crime, the perpetrator.”
She added, “Victims are very powerless in their interactions with their perpetrator, whether they know the perpetrator or not. There is not a lot they can do because they are not the active agent.”
Which is why it’s so important to trust survivors, which is exactly what RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, makes clear. The group says that the best way to support a survivor of sexual assault is communicate with them without any judgment, to remind the survivor that their assault was not their fault and that their claims are believed.
In other words, the opposite of Trump and members of his team calling the claims made against him “preposterous” and “ludicrous” and attempting to undermine the credibility of the women who have come forward against him.
It’s behavior like this that is just why it took so long for the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault to be believed and why many of his victims waited years — decades, even — before coming forward to tell their stories.
And it’s behavior like this that is why the words of the woman who survived having been sexually assaulted by former Stanford student Brock Turner resonated so emphatically with so many people and why the open letter Vice President Joe Biden wrote to this survivor brought so many people to tears: Not only did he unwaveringly voice his support for her but he also articulated that, without question, her experience was real, horrible, and unacceptable.
It’s behavior like this, literally, that brought First Lady Michelle Obama close to tears speaking at a campaign event for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Thursday, October 13, as she described the way the allegations against Trump have “shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted” and that the conversation leaked on the Access Hollywood tape, “wasn’t just a lewd conversation…this was a powerful individual speaking openly and freely about sexually predatory behavior.”
“This is not something we can ignore,” said Obama. “Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.”
According to RAINN, every 109 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault in the United States. One out of every six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime and 90 percent of all victims of rape are women. And while 48 percent of all sexual assaults occur to a person sleeping or doing another activity in the home, another 29 percent of sexual assaults occur to people traveling to and from work or school or completing other normal daily errands, 12 percent occur at a person’s place of work, and another 7 percent occur while attending school.
And a 2014 national survey commissioned by the group Stop Street Harassment found that 65 percent of all women had experienced street harassment at some point in her lifetime, with 23 percent of women reporting having been sexually touched, 20 percent of women reporting having been followed, and 9 percent reporting they had been forced to engage in some kind of sexual act. Almost half of all women surveyed reported having been subjected to unwanted sexual touching or grabbing.
Simply existing puts women at risk for sexual violence — which is why seeing their allegations belittled and diminished is all the more horrifying, especially given the great courage it takes for a survivor to come forward and share her story.
The women who have come out with allegations of sexual violence and harassment against Donald Trump are not doing so “meekly,” but bravely. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the police and when an offender is a friend or acquaintance of the survivor, only 18 to 40 percent of assaults are reported. Survivors list “fear of reprisal,” belief that their assault is a “personal matter,” fear that their report would not be seen as “important enough” to the respondent, not having enough proof or evidence of the crime, and feeling that the crime was not “serious enough” to report all as reasons to not report a sexual assault.
And so any time a survivor comes forward, her reporting is far from meek, but in fact remarkably courageous — and an act, as seen in the Cosby case, that often inspires other survivors to find “power in numbers” and do the same.