A Manhattan jury unanimously sided with advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in her civil lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, whom she says raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s.
The panel reached its decision Tuesday after less than three hours of deliberation, finding him liable for sexual abuse — but not rape — and declaring he owes $5 million in total damages.
Trump never appeared in court once. His attorneys called no witnesses on his behalf.
Carroll beamed and squeezed the hand of one of her attorneys, Roberta Kaplan, as she exited the courthouse.
“We’re very happy,” she told a crowd of reporters, per Law & Crime, declining to comment further.
Trump, meanwhile, reacted angrily on social media, calling the verdict “A DISGRACE” and “A CONTINUATION OF THE GREATEST WITCH HUNT OF ALL TIME!”
Carroll was able to sue for battery under New York’s Adult Survivors Act that was passed last year to allow people who were sexually abused a one-time chance to file civil suits despite any relevant statutes of limitations.
She also accused Trump of defamation, as the former president has repeatedly responded to her claims with an array of personal insults. Trump has said Carroll was a liar and called her claim a “hoax,” which could not be true because Carroll was not his “type.” He also suggested she was too old at the time to compel his sexual interest, although they would have been nearly the same age. In his videotaped deposition played for the jury, Trump even confused Carroll for one of his ex-wives, Marla Maples, as he examined a decades-old photograph of himself at a party with Carroll.
Jurors awarded Carroll $2 million for the finding of sexual abuse and another $3 million for the defamation claim; she had not asked for any precise monetary amount.
A witness for Carroll, Natasha Stoynoff, told People magazine she was “elated” to hear the verdict. Stoynoff was one of two women who provided testimony to establish a pattern of misbehavior on Trump’s part; she and Jessica Leeds both said in court that Trump sexually assaulted them.
“I hope women and all of those who come forward to share stories of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment find support,” Stoynoff told the outlet, adding, “There is power in the truth.”
While Trump faced no risk of jail time in connection with Carroll’s claims, criminal charges filed in April by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg relating to alleged hush money payments come with the possibility of time behind bars, albeit a slim one. Other investigations into Trump are also pending as he continues his campaign for a second presidential term.
Over several days’ worth of testimony before the panel of jurors and U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, the former Elle magazine columnist recounted the chance encounter with Trump in either late 1995 or early 1996. (She said that despite wishing she could pin down a more precise date, she could not.) She bumped into Trump while leaving Manhattan’s Bergdorf Goodman luxury department store, she said.
“Hey, you’re that advice lady!” Trump allegedly told her.
“Hey, you’re that real estate tycoon!” she said that she responded.
Carroll said Trump asked for her help in picking out a gift for a female friend and that she agreed because it sounded fun. But their friendly banter throughout the store gave way to an attack, she testified.
In the lingerie section, Carroll said Trump told her to try on a lace bodysuit, and she replied by joking that he should try it on. Trump then trapped her in a dressing room, using his body weight to prevent her from escaping, she said.
“The first push, I thought, ‘He couldn’t have meant that.’ I thought he had made a mistake. I thought it was very strange,” Carroll testified, per CNN.
“We had just been laughing 12, 15 seconds before, and here I am being pushed up against the wall. It just didn’t make any sense,” she said. “Then he put his mouth against mine, and then I understood.”
She said that she struggled.
“But he had pulled down my tights, and his fingers went into my vagina, and it was extremely painful,” Carroll testified, per Politico. “Extremely painful because he put his hand inside me and curved his fingers. As I’m sitting here today, I can still feel it.”
“Then he inserted his penis,” Carroll said in court. She added that she had “so much adrenaline” running through her at the time that she was not sure whether she spoke but was able to run away after a few minutes.
Carroll testified that the incident has affected her for three decades — she has not had sex since and struggles at times to interact with men.
She confided at the time in two friends, who both testified in court in support of her claims, but chose not to tell anyone else until going public with her story in 2019.
In her lawsuit, lawyers for Carroll said she “resented the fact that practically every woman who courageously came forward with their stories of abuse was subjected to questions like ‘why didn’t you scream.’”
In one of the more tense parts of the trial, Trump attorney Joe Tacopina asked precisely that.
“One of the reasons women don’t come forward is because they’re always asked, ‘Why didn’t you scream?’ Some women scream; some women don’t. It keeps women silent,” Carroll added, according to The Washington Post.
She then raised her voice to add: “He raped me whether I screamed or not!”
Tacopina’s lines of questioning were often met with resistance by Kaplan, who told him he was being “argumentative” and “repetitive,” The New York Times reported.
But he still used his time questioning Carroll to cast doubt on her story, pointing to the lack of a concrete timeframe and any police report. Tacopina also suggested it would have been very strange for Carroll not to have encountered any Bergdorf Goodman employees.
Carroll said it wasn’t until she saw the Harvey Weinstein scandal play out in the fall of 2017 that she decided to go public.
She had been reluctant to speak up during the 2016 election because her mother was in poor health, and she saw how Trump’s supporters rallied around him when other women alleged abuse. But she eventually came forward after her mother died and after she saw how the MeToo movement galvanized support for people who endured sexual harassment and assault.
The verdict appears to reflect changing norms of the post-Me Too era that dispense with the assumption that women are supposed to behave in certain ways after sexual assault, and if they do not, they are not believable.
Attorneys for Carroll built their case using what corroborative evidence they had: the accounts of Carroll’s confidantes at the time and women who say they also experienced abuse by Trump, along with his infamous “Access Hollywood” commentary, to paint a picture of a man wholly capable of sexual abuse.
Trump’s attorneys say he plans to appeal.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.
CORRECTION: A prior version of this story incorrectly stated that Marla Maples was in the photo with E. Jean Carroll and Trump.