As Trump Allegations Emerge, Rape Support Group Cautions Against Insulting Accusers
A rep for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network cautions against attacking victims and reinforcing a narrative that forces victims to justify why they are speaking out against their accusers.
As multiple women come forward with allegations that Donald Trump sexually assaulted them, so too comes backlash against these women for speaking out.
The Trump campaign and some of its supporters have voiced disbelief and doubt about the allegations, and The Hollywood Reporter talked to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) about the problems with immediately dismissing allegations of sexual assault.
In the last 24 hours, three women have come forward, via The New York Times and People, with accounts of Trump touching and kissing them without consent. Trump has denied the allegations and his legal team has threatened to sue the Times. In their letter to the Times, Trump's legal team says the publication conducted an "entirely inadequate investigation" into the veracity of the women's claims and pointed out that one woman's alleged incident occurred more than three decades ago while another's was 11 years ago. (The Times reporters explained how they verified the women's stories on Thursday's CBS This Morning.)
Speaking on MSNBC, Trump advisor A.J. Delgado said "any reasonable woman would have come forward" sooner and talked about these incidents if they were true. On CNN, Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson accused the women of wanting "15 minutes of fame."
RAINN vice president of victims services Brian Pinero says accusing women of having an ulterior motive when they allege sexual assault perpetuates a dangerous narrative that women won't be believed when they do come forward, which could silence sexual assault victims in the future.
"When you're a victim of an assault and when you're accusing someone who is powerful and is in a position of power, this is exactly why you don't want to come forward," said Pinero. "You're afraid you're not going to be believe, not going to be legitimized. You're afraid of what people are going to say about you."
He said that whenever anybody is in a position of power to respond to these allegations, or press people who are writing statements in response to allegations, even if it's about their own candidate, they should be careful not to be instantly dismissive of claims of sexual assault.
"In the end all you are doing is continuing to endorse a narrative that victims aren't allowed to come forward and speak up, that we will question them and make people earn support if they have been affected." Pinero said that he always tells family and friends of victims, "The one thing you have to do is just believe somebody." Accusing victims of having ulterior motives and that they need to justify why they are speaking out could lead to significant damage.
When political pundits and the media do this to accusers who come out publicly against men in positions of power like Trump, it sends a message to all sexual assault victims that they should stay silent. After the allegations against Trump came out #NextFakeTrumpVictim began trending on Twitter, with some Twitter users saying that the timing of the allegations was suspect.
The accusers that have come out thus far have said they were upset after the Access Hollywood tape was leaked and Trump dismissed his comments about groping women as "locker room talk," telling Anderson Cooper at the presidential debate that he had never physically sexually assaulted women.
Just as seeing negative reactions to accusers speaking out about alleged assaults can have a harmful impact, conversely, having multiple women speak out and be heard can send a positive message to survivors of sexual assault.
"We talk to a lot of victims about this all of the time," said Pinero, referring to women who wait to speak out about sexual abuse. "They say 'As I got older I realized I didn't want to live like this anymore. I didn't feel supported previously and now I do.'"
He added that when victims see other people being lifted and empowered, they too can feel like they can rise up and have their voice heard, which can be a part of the healing process. They can also realize that they were not to blame for the assault and negate the common feeling that they did something to deserve it.
Former People reporter Natasha Stoynoff spoke to this in her article about her alleged experience with Trump in 2005. She said she blamed herself for his transgression and was "afraid that a famous, powerful, wealthy man could and would discredit and destroy" her. When she heard the Access Hollywood tape, she said she felt relieved. "I finally understood for sure that I was not to blame for his inappropriate behavior. I had not been singled out," writes Stoynoff. She said she also felt "violated and muzzled all over again."
On Thursday, Trump talked about Stoynoff's allegations in a rally, asking why she hadn't shared her story earlier. He said, "You take a look. Look at her. And look at her words. And you tell me what you think. I don't think so."
Pinero said that people don't often take into account the bravery it takes for anyone to tell their story, much less in such a public way. This is often the first time people in the victim's family and friend group are hearing about the incident, and they may face judgment not only from strangers but from loved ones.
"These people are being revictimized every time it's being talked about, it's not just in the moment that assault happens," said Pinero, adding that RAINN is always willing to speak to sexual assault survivors looking for support. "It takes an incredibly strong person to tell their story much less to have it retold, and rewritten, and become the red header on CNN."