Recent lewd comments by the Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump have created a political storm for the candidate and his party. Media’s stance on relaying Trump’s P-word, future selection of presidential nominees, locker room talk, addressing gender-based violence are only a few of the many implications that have dominated the news cycle.
I am particularly interested in addressing ‘his’ kind of locker room talk that pro athletes do not rightly agree with. Trump’s comments promote gender-based violence and indeed fall under various typologies describing sexual harassment and assault. Most importantly, these fall under Department of Justice’ definition of sexual assault; and more specifically under rape and fondling definitions per FBI Uniform Crime Reporting and National Incident Based Reporting System, respectively.
Many unprecedented incidents have occurred in Election 2016. With less than a month remaining, more will.
But for now, a Presidential candidate boasting about sexual assault and with some of his colleagues justifying it remains an important topic to discuss and that deserves serious attention.
Earlier this year, my co-author and I published a study on ‘Sexual Harassment.’ The respondents (men & women from India) were asked to attribute seriousness level they attached to various incidents describing sexual harassment (SH) on a 7-point scale. SH is typically classified at four levels: non-verbal, verbal, serious, and more serious. An example of non-verbal will be “unwanted sexual looks or gestures.” Similarly, an example of verbal SH will be “sexual comments about clothing, anatomy, or looks.” Serious kinds of SH implied “unwanted deliberate touch/pinching,” “groping,” “patting on the buttocks,” or “flashing.”
Our findings were not earth shattering but I want to point two things: i. more than 90 to 95% of men and women termed SH described above as ranging from somewhat serious to very serious, and ii. while there were significant differences between men and women’s attitude toward sexual harassment but those differences were not too large. In short, everyone recognizes it as a serious concern.
So, now the important question is, what can future generation learn from this political season, or from this particular incident?
First, what Trump boasted doing in 2005 is not only illegal, but it is also recognized as very serious form of sexual harassment, let alone sexual assault.
Second, Trump is a byproduct of a culture that rests on women’s objectification, sexuality, and machoism or exaggerated masculinity. In a research study, Schwartz and his colleagues suggested, “the men who abuse women do so … because they have other men’s encouragement and support in doing so.” In their words, “motivated offenders exist because they have developed certain attitudes and behaviors as a result of encouragement and support by other males.”
What Schwartz et al. (2001) state in their ‘male-peer support theory’ has much relevance today, particularly to understanding the implications of some members justifying or trivializing Trump’s remarks.
For example, Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama stated in The Weekly Standard that he ‘did not characterize it as a sexual assault.’ Dr. Ben Carson argued, “that kind of banter goes all the time.” Eric Trump stated when guys are together they get carried away and that’s what happens.
All these instances can be linked with the male-support theory, and honestly, people who are not finding Trump’s sexual assault tirade as problematic or troubling are either ignorant, or they are knowingly encouraging such behavior. Both are dangerous.
Third, there is a clear need for more education on gender-based issues, and addressing the inherent incorporation of a rape culture in our society. I recommend using both a top down and bottom up approach to address this. A top down approach would bring prominent national leaders, members of the media, and research experts to the table for a conversation about sexual victimization, the ill-effects it has, and the role youth can play in addressing it etc. A bottom up approach should include academicians, educators who can initiate these conversations in the classroom. I would also encourage parents to talk about some of these topics with their children. Moving forward, attitudinal and behavioral change is a must.
In the US, where one in seven women is affected by rape, it is disturbing that recent political discourse pertaining to engaging in and/or boasting sexual violence has shown apathy from some of the prominent voices.
Clearly, there is a need to work collectively to recognize troubling aspects of gender-based violence, and the overall impact on the moral and social fabric of our society. Until we initiate such conversations, women will continue to experience such unfortunate and unwarranted diatribes.
Like many others, I am hopeful people understand that sexual harassment or assault is a form of violence against women and should be eliminated. Perhaps, this election has brought these issues to the forefront and now we can begin the conversation to addressing them.
On the political front, continuing to support Donald Trump seems similar to someone drunk driving, or tweeting while driving – in either of these cases, likelihood of a fatal crash is quite imminent.
RNC cannot do much at this point when it comes to reigning-in Trump. Perhaps, they can work on deploying airbags to come off at the right moment to minimize the damage this election has already caused the Grand Old Party.