After a number of women accused Donald Trump of sexual assault this week, those both inside and outside the Trump camp argued that if the incidents the women allege had really occurred, they would have come forward earlier.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said on CNN that the women had plenty of previous opportunities to come forward “if this incident had been so important to them.” Spokesperson Katrina Pierson asked why they would have waited until less than a month from Election Day, and accused them of seeking “15 minutes of fame.” On his MSNBC show, Joe Scarborough explained that if he’d been harassed by Trump, he wouldn’t have waited until October to go public with his allegations.
And when questioned by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about the allegations, the Trump campaign’s AJ Delgado proclaimed, “If somebody actually did that, Chris, any reasonable woman would have come forward and said something at the time.”
That is a laughable assertion. Reasonable women get assaulted every day and make the perfectly rational decision that it isn’t in their best interest to do anything about it. They do so because they don’t expect they will be believed, or that their assault will be taken seriously, or because they want to move on from the experience more than they want to hold their batterers accountable.
Four women came forward against Trump on Wednesday alone. They told us why they kept quiet: People reporter Natasha Stoynoff, who alleged Trump forced himself on her in 2005, wrote that “like many women, I was ashamed and blamed myself for his transgression. I minimized it (‘It’s not like he raped me…’); I doubted my recollection and my reaction. I was afraid that a famous, powerful, wealthy man could and would discredit and destroy me.”
Jessica Leeds, who told The New York Times Trump assaulted her on a plane 30 years ago, said she didn’t call for help because women in business regularly dealt with unwanted advances from men – “we were taught it was our fault.” Rachel Crooks was distraught and angry after she says Trump, who had business dealings with her employer, kissed her on the mouth outside an elevator at Trump Tower, where she worked. But she told her boyfriend at the time, “I can’t do anything to this guy, because he’s Donald Trump.” Mindy McGillivray, who told the Palm Beach Post Donald Trump groped her in public, said she didn’t want to make a scene.
For many women, these stories are all too familiar. A number took to Twitter this week to explain #WhyWomenDontReport. They recounted fearing being blamed, not being able to prove their allegations, losing their jobs and other retaliation.
Trump’s wealth and influence would have given his accusers plenty of reasons to fear reporting him at the time the alleged assaults occurred, but he’s gotten even scarier since he started running a presidential campaign characterized by nasty attacks on women and general vindictiveness. No woman is obligated to give us additional proof of what we already know: that Trump is an unrepentant misogynist. There’s little upside – and a lot of risk – involved in crossing Trump and his most deplorable supporters, who have responded to women criticizing Trump in the past with harassment and death threats.
But Trump’s claim at Sunday’s debate that he had never committed the assaults he was caught on tape bragging about was apparently a bridge too far for the women who went public this week (who were not the first to make similar allegations of Trump, mind you).
It’s no mystery why these woman would feel compelled to come forward after the spectacle Trump staged Sunday. With the “Trump tape” seeming to prove that Trump’s a proud abuser of women, the GOP nominee responded in classic Trump style: No, you are. He insisted he had only engaged in “locker room” talk on the tape, while Bill Clinton had actually abused women. He tried to normalize his language and acted as though it was beneath him to have to account for it, before flatly denying he’d ever committed the acts.
Furthermore, women might only start coming forward when they see others do the same – it’s easier to have courage when you’re not alone. Case in point: A Trump accuser who spoke out Friday said she did so after seeing the allegations that came out earlier in the week, noting she wanted to “back these girls up.”
It might be hard to see any silver lining in this horrible saga, but there is reason to hope that Trump has forced a reckoning that will move us toward a world in which more women feel comfortable reporting assaults and fewer men feel entitled to commit them. This may be an Anita Hill moment. While Hill coming forward about workplace sexual harassment hardly solved the problem in the U.S. (just look at the recent Roger Ailes ordeal), it brought a tremendous amount of attention to the issue and put everyone on notice that it isn’t acceptable or legal.
Thanks to the brave women who have come forward with their allegations against Trump, opening themselves up to the attacks that inevitably followed, and the hundreds of other women who shared their stories of assault in response to his leaked comments, everyone is on notice that nonconsensual groping isn’t harmless or funny – it’s violent and illegal.
Times are changing. Predatory men can’t expect to get away with treating women as their property like they once could – as Donald Trump is quickly finding out.