Denying, explaining and excusing their behavior, criminal offenders will often inadvertently expose deplorable attitudes, values and beliefs. Failing to heed the standard advice (i.e., remain silent), they offer statements that may not count as a confession, but are nonetheless incriminating. A defendant I recently interviewed was charged with assaulting his elderly mother. His statement to the arresting officer was: “the b*tch deserved it.”
Responding to accusations of sexual misconduct, candidate Donald Trump explained that some misogynistic comments attributed to him were “entertainment” and that he was just bragging (“locker room talk”) when he claimed to be a sexual batterer. He suggested that some women are not sufficiently attractive to victimize.
Trump has questioned his accusers’ motives (seeking fame and fortune) and referred to them as “crazy” prevaricators and unstable “liars.”
Irrespective of whether Trump ever acted on the impulse from the wayward bus, the words, ideas and attitudes expressed in his defense (men are pigs, get over it) remain abhorrent and disturbing. His December 2004 comments on Lindsay Lohan’s status as a sex object are even more disturbing.
On-air, Howard Stern baited Trump, predicting: “eventually, you trade her in for Lindsay Lohan, this Melania.”
The implication was that the soon to be married Trump would soon be seeking a younger wife. Lohan was 18 in 2004 and had never appeared on-screen, other than as a teenager.
Trump responded to Stern enthusiastically. Trump said that he had “seen a close up of her chest” and that to find her attractive, Howard would have to be “into freckles.”
Stern baited Trump again, asking “can you imagine the sex with this troubled teen?”
Trump was quick to imagine and may not have heard Stern use the word “teen.” Be that as it may, Trump proceeded to discuss why “troubled” and “crazy women” can be preferred sex objects (“they’re always the best in bed”). As a criminal forensic psychologist, what I heard was a discussion about how to identify the vulnerable while choosing sexual prey. Trump endorsed the idea of seeking out the emotionally wounded.
This Stern interview reminded me of two different sexual assault cases in which the accused told me that women routinely consent to sex with strangers, after dark in nightclub parking lots. One said “I didn’t have to force her.” The other said “I had to hit her.” Both had sought vulnerable prey, believing that “when they’re drunk, they let you do it.”
Maybe Trump has never acted on the impulses and fantasies he has celebrated. I know that others have.
Offenders are enabled by attitudes and beliefs. Attitudes (like righteousness or entitlement) can serve to “unshackle” impulses. Distorted beliefs can provide an impetus and a justification for behavior.
Trump will never admit to sexual assault and some will always believe him. Still, we should be alert to the attitudes he expressed and the beliefs on display. Young men should not be taught that they are sexually privileged or immune from consequences.