Outpouring of Sexual Assault Stories Matched Only by Outpouring of Excuses

Content warning for discussion of sexual assault and harassment.

“I just start kissing [beautiful women]. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” -Donald Trump (Emphasis added)

After the leaked video of Trump boasting about how he would assault women, writer Kelly Oxford talked about being sexually assaulted, and invited other women to share their stories and experiences on Twitter.

I know there are people who will simply refuse to accept the prevalence of sexual violence, no matter how many survivors speak out, no matter how much evidence is presented. For the rest of us, the kind of outpouring that followed Oxford’s Tweets leads to a simple question. How can rape and assault and harassment continue to be so common?

Let’s look at the initial responses to Trump’s remarks:

  1. First came the defense that talking about grabbing/assaulting women the way Trump had is just locker room talk, just guys being guys.
  2. This was met with disgust and disbelief, along with claims from many that they’d never heard talk like this in any locker rooms, or from any guys they knew.

Trump boasted about grabbing women’s genitals without their consent. He boasted about how he could do anything to them, because he was a star. This is not just guys being guys. It’s not harmless banter. It’s not normal.

People can be crude and vulgar, sure. We’ve all said things we’re glad nobody was around to record. But no, we haven’t all boasted about sexually assaulting women. Don’t try to normalize that shit. Don’t sweep it under the rug of “boys will be boys.”

And then you have the guys who say they’ve never heard such things. Really? Never? As common as sexual assault is in this country, you’ve never heard anyone boasting about a problematic encounter? Never heard anyone glorifying assault, talking about what they could do, what they could get away with? Never heard the jokes about getting women drunk in order to get them into bed rape them?

Maybe not. But I have to wonder, how many guys have never heard such things because we haven’t wanted to? Because we don’t want to look. We’re significantly less likely to be victims of sexual assault and harassment (though it happens to men far more than we like to admit), so we feel like we don’t have to think about it. We don’t have to pay attention. It’s easy to ignore things we don’t think affect us directly. (Which is one of the reasons so many of the men denouncing Trump’s remarks preface it with “As the father of daughters” and so on — because we assume none of this affects us personally.)

Those two responses — normalizing and turning a blind eye — are a huge part of why rape and harassment are so common. We either assume it’s normal or we refuse to believe it.

“The New York Times goes back over 30 years to find somebody who had a bad airplane flight,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, referring to a woman who alleges that Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on a flight around 1980 when she was 38. (Source)

This would be the minimizing and normalizing approach. Gingrich doesn’t say here that the assault did or didn’t happen; instead, he describes the act of a man grabbing a woman’s breasts and trying to put his hand up her skirt as nothing more than “a bad airplane flight.”

“Trump talks like a guy. And ladies out there, this is what guys talk about when you’re not around.” -Scott Baio (Source)

No, this is what harassers and rapists talk about when you’re not around. And there are admittedly a lot of harassers and rapists out there. But if this shit is normal guy-talk for you and your friends, you need to step back and take a good look at who you and your friends are.

“I don’t characterize that as sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch.” -Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. (Source)

Different states have different laws and categories for types of sexual assault. In Michigan, what Trump described would likely be classified as Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 4th Degree. But this wasn’t about giving a legal opinion. This was a senator claiming that Trump assaulting a woman in a sexual manner shouldn’t be characterized as sexual assault. And that twists logic and reason well beyond the breaking point.

“Retired neurosurgeon and Trump backer Ben Carson said this week that when he was growing up, men were constantly boasting about their sexual exploits.” (Source)

Sexual exploits? Yeah, that’s not unusual. An inability to distinguish between boasting about consensual sexual activity and boasting about sexual assault? That’s messed up. That’s a serious problem.

I know most of these quotes come from a place of political desperation to defend Trump’s remarks…but isn’t that what we see again and again? We don’t want to believe a guy we like could do something so predatory, so we make excuses. We minimize and normalize and ignore it. We call women liars and say they’re overreacting.

And predators get the message. They hear us loud and clear when we say it’s normal to grab and grope women without consent. They smile and nod when we talk about how forcing yourself on a woman isn’t really sexual assault. They silently thank us when we suggest we’re not going to look, not going to pay attention to their crimes. They thank us again when we attack the women who dare to speak out, knowing they’ll be harassed and threatened and doxxed as a result.

This is some of what we talk about when we talk about rape culture. It’s not that everyone in the culture is pro-rape. It’s that so many are so willing to ignore and normalize it. It’s all we as a culture do to allow and facilitate sexual assault, and to protect sexual predators.

You say you don’t know what rape culture is? Wake up and look around. We’re drowning in it.