Content Warning: Donald Trump, sexual assault
I’ve been teaching about sexual assault for the last two weeks in sociology of sex, timing that coordinated not only with the entirely unsurprising revelation that Donald Trump has sexually harassed a possibly endless parade of women and bragged about it but, closer to home, a third sexual assault reported this “Red Zone” on my own campus, Arkansas State University. My students are getting a tragic opportunity to apply their new knowledge about sexual violence, rape culture, toxic masculinity, victim blaming, and more this week.
Books I’ve been reading this week: We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino and The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention by Sameena Mulla.
Here’s what I’m reading to stay on top of the stories:
Eric Trump gives us a lesson straight out of an MRA handbook when he says that “alpha” men speak about women as targets of sexual violence. So rather than normalizing sexual violence, as his father did in his defense of “locker room talk,” Eric Trump actually says it’s a sign of power. It’s not that all men do it—only the best! This is the definition of toxic masculinity.
Of course, Trump has already said that only weak women get harassed. Strong women—his daughter, Ivanka, for example—don’t put up with that kind of thing. In other words, he selects victims who are weaker than him so he can get away with it. Like women who are emotionally or mentally fragile, which was part of his sexual attraction to teenager Lindsay Lohan. In comments he made on the Howard Stern show, he said that sex with a “troubled teen” would be especially exciting.
Guess what? That’s always the strategy sexual predators use to select victims: who is weak? Who can be destroyed if they try to fight back? Who can be doubted if they speak up? Who can you smear if they call for help?
His son Donald Trump, Jr. has argued that women who can’t handle harassment should take a job where they won’t face it—like a kindergarten teacher. This also means that “alpha men” don’t go into teaching, I suppose.
Donald Trump’s language isn’t vulgar; his violence, entitlement, and easy belittling of others is. Trevor Noah nails it when he helps us see that “pussy” isn’t the problem—“grab” is. Yet even Republicans who have stepped away from their candidate are struggling to frame this as a crime of violence rather than a problem of vocabulary. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions doesn’t even think it’s a crime. That’s a problem, because he is a lawmaker and a lawyer. It’s also sets a tone for all of Alabama to ignore crime. In fact, Republicans seem quite willing to be soft on sex crime.
The problem is also that the tears of those deeply offended Republicans are a little late. Lutheran(ish) pastor Tuhina Verma Rushke vulnerably speaks about the women we should already have been listening to in “The Sanctification of White Pussy.”
Why don’t victims speak out? Check out Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal episode “Rape Kit Backlog” to see one reason why. Or look to Lou Dobbs, who doxxed one of Trump’s victims, putting her life in danger. We don’t speak out because our attackers do just what they promise they will do when they are assaulting us: If you tell anyone, I will kill you. I will kill your children. I will kill your parents. I can do it, just like I’m doing this now. No one will believe you anyway. There is no proof, and no one will believe a person like you. No one will believe that a person like me would assault someone like you. You are too ugly to be assaulted. A slut can’t be raped anwyay. If you tell anyone, I will ruin your career. My friends will attack you online. You’ll never get a job. No one will want to marry you. If you had just given me what I want, I wouldn’t have to take it. We don’t report because these things they say are often true. A man who will rape is certainly a man who will destroy his victim for seeking justice.
If you have been the victim of sexual violence and need support, consider reaching out to RAINN, the nation’s largest resource for victims of sexual violence. You can expect to be treated with respect and dignity, your story heard and believed. This is a resource for men and women of all sexual orientations and identities.
If you have concerns about a friend’s safety in a relationship, learn how you can act to prevent violence through the Red Flag Campaign.