Trump Was Only Held Accountable Because Sexual Assault Survivors Changed The Law

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Donald Trump ― world-famous misogynist with decades of assault allegations ― was brought to justice by none other than a group of sexual assault survivors. 

A Manhattan federal jury found on Tuesday that the former president sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll in a department store dressing room in New York City in the mid-1990s. Carroll, a longtime advice columnist, filed a civil suit against Trump for battery and defamation and was awarded a combined $5 million for the jury’s findings on her allegations.

Carroll was only able to sue for battery over two decades after the assault took place because of the work of sexual assault survivors. About two dozen survivors worked tirelessly to pass the Adult Survivors Act, a New York state law enacted in November that allows people who were sexually abused a one-time chance to file civil lawsuits despite statutes of limitations. They spent hundreds of unpaid hours away from their families and friends, taking time off of work, all to fly to Albany to change the law. 

“E. Jean got into that courtroom because a collective group of survivors fought exhaustively and relentlessly to change the law,” Alison Turkos, one of the survivors who worked to get the Adult Survivors Act passed, told HuffPost.  

“I want people to remember that survivors had to fight to change the law, to open the door for this case to happen. And if the law was not changed, this verdict would not happen.”

It took over three years for the survivors to get the law passed, and they were building upon the previous work of activists who spent 13 years lobbying for the New York Child Victims Act, which became law in 2019. 

Drew Dixon, another survivor who worked to pass the Adult Survivors Act, said she was fighting back tears when she heard the verdict. 

“I am profoundly moved that I played a small part along with my fellow survivor activists in creating a path for E. Jean Carroll, whose bravery and humanity and grace and vulnerability has absolutely taken my breath away,” said Dixon, a writer and producer in the music industry.  

“The sheer force of will of this group of survivors was incredible,” she added. “A group who just insisted that this window open because trauma takes time and these statute of limitations are unscientific and unaligned with the way the psychology of trauma really unfolds.” 

Carroll (center) walks out of court after the jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing the advice columnist in 1996.
Carroll (center) walks out of court after the jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing the advice columnist in 1996.

Carroll (center) walks out of court after the jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing the advice columnist in 1996.

Turkos, who has navigated the civil legal system for her own rape case, knows just how isolating and re-traumatizing the court system can be. Law enforcement, prosecutors and judges often heavily rely on stereotypes and misconceptions of victims with little knowledge of how trauma manifests.

These stereotypes were on full display throughout Carroll’s trial, as she was forced to answer pointed questions from Trump’s attorney: Did you say no? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you call the police? Trump himself said in a deposition that he couldn’t have raped Carroll because she wasn’t his “type.”

“I was born in 1943. I am a member of the Silent Generation, women like me were taught to keep our heads up ― not call the police,” Carroll responded to Trump’s attorney.

The New York law that resulted from the work of Turkos, Dixon and other survivors had finally created a space for Carroll to tell her story.

“That’s why this is true survivor justice,” Turkos said. “It’s the idea that there is a community who made this happen. Survivors lobbied, we told our stories, we talked to the press, we got co-sponsors, we educated so many elected officials.”

The window to file civil suits under the Adult Survivors Act closes on Nov. 23, 2023. Under the law, any adult survivor can file a civil case against their abuser or the institution that protected their abuser.

“This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed,” Carroll said in a statement following the verdict.

For victims of assault who are so often isolated by the violence they experienced, there’s a lot of power in community.

“We can support each other. And if we stick together we can ― little by little, incrementally ― transform this culture and make it more just,” Dixon said.

“Donald Trump said that when you’re a star they let you do it. He said that this is the way it’s been for millions of years. Not anymore.”

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