The psyches of all women are affected now. One of my friends posted on Facebook, "All women I talk to right now are so filled with fear and anger right now that someone who hates women this much and denies their consent could be president." Another female friend wrote me, "I feel like Trump has climbed into my bedroom and I am thoroughly disturbed." I have been on edge, more anxious that he could win, more worried about what I wear when I go out in the street, angry that a man who boasts about sexually assaulting a woman is at the top of the Republican ticket. I sent out a version of this editorial to a couple of newspapers and one op-ed editor wrote me back, "Interesting piece but this story has dominated the public conversation since Friday and now readers are starting to move on. I can't use the piece." The news cycle may move on, but we have not.
Trump brushes off his 2005 comments about grabbing a woman's genitals without her consent by saying they are a distraction from important issues facing the country. It is not just a "distraction" when a woman (or man) experiences a sexual assault. A sexual assault has lifelong psychological and health consequences, not just a person's ability to enjoy sex but also her mental and physical health on every level. Sexual violation certainly has not been "just a distraction" in my life. My experience was childhood sexual abuse, and it's made it difficult to be in a healthy relationship and may have contributed to my autoimmune disease. Not a distraction. Not really.
How did we even get to the point where a man who boasts about sexual assault, and then says this is "locker-room talk," is the Republican candidate for president? I wrote a calm clinical essay prosecuting Trump for consistent disrespect of women but when I showed it to a friend she said, "Where's the emotion?" I wanted to stay factual because I was afraid of being called an "angry woman."
There's a lot to be angry about but I suppressed my anger for many years. I stayed silent about the abuse that happened to me as a child, never telling anyone until I was 18. No one told me to stay silent, but I grew up feeling it was my job to protect everyone else from the truth. Everyone else's feelings mattered more than mine, and it was better to leave the room rather than stay in the same room with the abuser. The cost of sexual violation accrues in the silence and the shame that goes along with that silence.
I'm unwilling to be silent anymore. Trump is an abuser and he's abusing (and gaslighting) the whole country. It's obvious this is not normal locker-room banter. Most men don't gleefully brag about sexually assaulting women. His pattern of extreme disrespect toward women is well established. Just last week he was up in the middle of the night tweeting about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, calling her "disgusting," and a "con," and claiming she appeared in a sex tape with no evidence. He has been accused of rape three times (Jane Doe in California alleges he raped her when she was 13) and he's said if his daughter Ivanka were sexually harassed it would be up to her to find a new situation. He also said on The View, "If Ivanka weren't my daughter perhaps I'd be dating her." (To which, the hosts laughed, "Oh, you're known for saying outrageous things, who are you, Woody Allen?") People making jokes about these comments is exactly how we got to this point.
Too many people don't realize there are lifelong psychological and health costs for survivors of sexual assault. I've been researching the links between sexual abuse and emotional and physical health because I'm writing a memoir where an incident of sexual abuse is part of my story. Men and women who experience sexual violation often face years of feeling damaged, alone, and unlovable. Abuse and rape lead to clinical depression at rates 11 times the general population. Survivors struggle to enjoy sex, feeling like they are objects, and to form trusting bonds in intimacy. There's a growing body of evidence that rape and sexual abuse negatively impact physical health too. Recovery from sexual assault and abuse is possible and it takes effort, courage, money, and often years.
Canadian writer Kelly Oxford shared five of her sexual assault experiences and asked other women to tweet theirs. She told the UK Guardian, for 14 hours, she was getting 50 stories a minute. Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network estimates that 1 in every 6 American women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. I'd hazard those numbers are low because many people never tell a soul. As I've told people in my network about my writing project, 60% of the people I tell eventually confide a sexual violation happened to them too in childhood. They don't always say immediately. That's how deep the shame and silence goes.
Donald Trump will continue to say outrageous things for the next month, but let's not forget: he was 59 when he boasted that he could he could grab women by the pussy whenever he wanted because he is a star. What I've realized from my own healing from sexual abuse is that anger has its place. Let's not be afraid to be angry. Anger is a chance to draw a boundary, to say no more, to say back off. So it is with all my righteous anger that I say it's inconceivable that we have even gotten to this point where this man is up on the national stage in the debates. A vote for Trump tells other people this behavior is OK. Republicans, you need to take responsibility for nominating this man. He needs to be off the Republican ticket. Now.
Sasha Cagen is the author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and she's at work on a memoir called Wet. Wet is about escaping the dry techie world of the mind for the more sensual world of the body and healing from childhood trauma and the sexual repression/negative messages that women face in our culture to find her own self-value as a woman. She also teaches transformative tango in Buenos AIres. Check out her work at sashacagen.com.