The latest allegations against Donald Trump of unwanted sexual contact brought out the usual responses from defenders and apologists.
They’re lying. They’re trying to profit off the controversy. Why didn’t they come forward sooner?
Or, as the GOP candidate said in one of his many denials of the claims, “Look at her. … I don’t think so.”
Within hours of the allegations appearing in the The New York Times and People Magazine Wednesday night, #NextFakeTrumpVictim was trending on social media, as supporters’ repudiated of the claims. Then, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs retweeted a link to an article that had a Trump accuser’s phone number and address. He later apologized and pulled the tweet down.
To survivors of sexual assault, these were classic examples of what keeps women from coming forward.
“We’ve had a masterclass today in why women are scared to report sexual assault. Why didn’t you report yours?” Vox correspondent Elizabeth Plank said on Twitter.
The question revived conversation around #WhyWomenDontReport. It’s a conversation that keeps coming up whenever a prominent figure faces sexual assault allegations. But it bears repeating:
Fear of reprisals
Having your personal information shared with the world is an extreme example of retaliation. Short of that, suffice to say, reprisals take many forms.
If you’re sexually harassed on the job, there’s fear of losing said job, being demoted or getting passed over for opportunities. If it’s among acquaintances, there’s fear of social rejection or isolating yourself from the friend group.
If it’s a teacher you might worry about your grades.
Fear that no one will believe you
If the perpetrator is in a position of power — the head of a company or a celebrity or a professor — there’s fear that your word will be meaningless against theirs. If it’s a relative, you may worry about tearing your family apart.
See the reaction to Trump’s latest accusers, who told The New York Times in a story published Wednesday that he groped or kissed them without their consent. One of the alleged incidents occurred in 2005, the other more than 30 years ago. Later Wednesday, People Magazine published a report from one its writers, who alleged Trump physically attacked her while she was on assignment writing a profile of his first anniversary with wife Melania.
As one person pointed out, “The fact that #NextFakeTrumpVictim is trending should tell you exactly why women fear coming forward about sexual assault.”
There’s not enough evidence
Or, maybe there’s not the right evidence. Prosecutors are reluctant to try sexual assault cases without documentary evidence or eyewitnesses, especially in cases that hinge on consent. Many lawyers and trial observers believe Stanford University student Brock Turner may not have been charged or convicted with sexually assaulting an unconscious woman had there not been bystanders who intervened.
Fear of being blamed
It’s called victim-blaming, and it takes various forms: questions about what you were wearing, where you went, who you were with. It shifts responsibility for the attack from the perpetrator to the victim.
They don’t want anyone to know
For all the reasons mentioned, it may seem easier to keep it to yourself. The guilt, fear, shame and confusion may become paralyzing, making disclosure incomprehensible.
These aren’t the only reasons sexual assault survivors don’t come forward, as a scroll through the hashtag shows. If you have experienced sexual assault and don’t know where to turn, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline online or by calling 800.656.4673.
By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN