Donald Trump’s boastful comments about groping and kissing women without consent undermines efforts to end rape culture, according to advocates for sexual assault survivors.
If a man who could become president casually discusses his penchant for groping women without their permission, they say, that makes such behavior seem more acceptable.
“It normalizes a culture in which sexual assault goes excused,” said Anna Voremberg, managing director of End Rape on Campus, which works to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.
Ashley Harrell, a senior family advocate at the DC Children’s Advocacy Center, where she assists minors who have been sexually assaulted, worries that Trump still enjoys the respect and support of a sizable portion of the country.
“It is really dangerous because as much as it blows my mind, there are a lot of people looking up to this guy,” Harrell said. “When people in power think that is normal, it trickles down in a real way. It is infuriating.”
Hearing comments like Trump’s may also be traumatic for survivors, as it can trigger memories of their own harrowing experiences and make them feel less comfortable coming forward to seek the help they need.
Harrell used to work with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, and remembers receiving calls to the help hotline from people experiencing flare-ups of emotional distress due to stories of sexual assault in the news.
Voremberg worries that Trump’s comments about kissing and groping will particularly hurt survivors who have experienced unwanted sexual contact similar to what he described.
Survivors who haven’t experienced penetrative rape often “feel bad when they experience PTSD symptoms or depression because they think what happened to them is ‘not bad enough,’” Voremberg said. “A lot of them have come a long way in their healing. Bringing this up brings back those feelings all over again.”
“When people in power think that is normal, it trickles down in a real way. It is infuriating.”
A President Trump would have authority over higher education policy at a time when students across the country are challenging their universities to properly address cases of campus assault. Activists praise the Obama administration’s Department of Education for taking steps to ensure universities are held accountable when they mishandle cases of assault on their campuses.
EROC is prepared to work with whomever wins the general election, Voremberg said, but Trump’s comments don’t inspire confidence in his grasp of the issue.
“We wonder how seriously he would take sexual assault,” she said.
The Republican Party writ large has complained that Title IX ― the law requiring gender equity in educational programs that receive assistance from the federal government ― is being used too broadly to challenge universities’ sexual assault policies, Voremberg said.
House Republicans also introduced the Safe Campus Act in July 2015, which virtually all survivor advocy groups have condemned. Critics of the law argue that it improperly shifts responsibility onto survivors by requiring them to report assault before police can investigate.
Fatima Goss Graves, a senior vice president of the National Women’s Law Center, nonetheless believes that advocates should take advantage of the attention Trump’s remarks are receiving to accelerate ongoing efforts to increase awareness of sexual assault and the cultural norms that allow it to exist.
“Any time people are using this weekend to talk to their children about being a good bystander, about consent, that’s a good thing,” Goss Graves said.
“We have seen over the last few years that student activists have worked really hard to make these issues visible, to change policies, culture and move their institutions to a place where they are ready to implement bystander campaigns,” she added. “It is really hard work, so to have this conversation is a good thing.”
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Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.
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