A pornstar who claims that Donald Trump has offered to pay her $10,000 to go to return to his hotel room is just the latest of nearly a dozen women who have come forward this month accusing Trump of sexual improprieties.
Trump, naturally, denies all charges. At the same time, Trump has been hyping the affairs and allegations of sexual assault against Bill Clinton. This week a former Arkansas reporter came forward to allege the former president sexually assaulted her three times while he was governor of Arkansas in 1980. In a climate where stories of sexual assault or rape are fiercely scrutinized, how is one to evaluate the veracity of these claims?
The standards for evaluating claims of crimes having been committed are, of course, different inside and outside a courtroom. No one is asking the voters to throw Donald Trump in prison for sexual assault—or for violating sanctions on Cuba, or for self-dealing with his foundation, or for defrauding investors and consumers. If he is guilty of any of those crimes, it is up to investigators and prosecutors to pursue and for the accused to be able to defend themselves in court. What the voters are tasked with, however, is to decide whom they think is most qualified to be the next president of the United States of America. For that, there is no requirement of proving someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is a choice each voter can make on their own.
Donald Trump certainly thinks that allegations of having committed a crime—even if unproven—should be considered as one factor. He has said that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be allowed to run for president, as he thinks she is guilty of violating laws related to her having used a private email server, and he even said that if he were elected, Clinton would be in jail. (Clinton’s practices have been investigated by the FBI, and FBI Director James Comey said that even thought Clinton displayed poor judgment she hadn’t broken any laws.)
There are many claims against Trump, and it is hard enough to evaluate any individual claim. After all, for many of these claims, there were no witnesses present. For one particular case where a woman accused Trump of groping her while sitting next to her on a plane, a random British guy, who has claimed to have aided and abetted British politicians sexual abuse of children, claims to have been sitting across the aisle from Trump and that the accuser is lying. Does he, considering his claims that he provided teenagers for Conservative politicians to rape, know what sexual assault is? Was he even on the same flight?
For one case of a People magazine reporter being assaulted while reporting on Trump, colleagues and friends have come forward backing up the story.
However, it is not worth it to try to evaluate every single claim individually. Consider how many accusers there are. Would 11 accusers just happen to lie all at the same time?
Add to that the facts of what we already know about Trump. He has often spoken of himself in entitled terms and made frightening comments about sexual relations (he said/joked he would like to be dating his daughter if she weren’t his daughter). In the 2005 tape on the “Access Hollywood” bus, he himself even described himself engaging in illegal behaviors that constituted sexual assault, kissing women without their consent and “grabbing women by the pussy.” Some of the women who have come forward have described Trump engaging in exactly the behaviors he said he did, just as he said he did them, right down to the Tic Tacs.
It is highly likely that Trump harassed and/or assaulted at least one of the accusers.
(Alleged) Victim Blaming
Now Trump and his surrogates and supporters have brought out the usual arguments used against women accusing men of sexual assault. Why didn’t they come forward until now?, Trump’s team asks. They’re ugly!, Trump himself has said at rallies.
Also: They’re sluts! (Trump has said this about many women whom he feels are too critical of him. He tweeted photos of Fox News pundit Megyn Kelly posing in GQ, for example, while calling her a “bimbo,” and he tweeted for people to “check out” the “sex tape” of Alicia Machado, a Miss America winner who became a campaign issue when Clinton noted at the first debate that Trump had called her a “pig.”)
That these arguments are taken seriously by a relatively large segment of the electorate is evidence of the progress America (and the world) still needs to make on issues of gender equality. In a world where misogynists look down upon women for their sexuality, but not so much on males (Trump running for president relatively unscathed for his multiple, self-publicized adulteries and appearances in Playboy, but Trump painting critical women as loose), it is not at all surprising that a woman would be reluctant to come forward, particularly knowing the vitriol accusers often face from people like Trump, who has viciously attacked women who accuse him of anything in the past and present. Add to that the difficulty of proving an allegation of sexual assault, particularly against a wealthy man with access to skilled attorneys, and many woman might not feel it would be worth it to come forward at the time.
As the former reporter, Leslie Millwee, who is accusing Bill Clinton said, “I almost came out during the Monica Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey situation. … I was very prepared to go forward then and talk about it. And I watched the way the Clintons and Hillary slandered those women.” Trump, at the time, helped smear the accusers, calling them “an unattractive cast of characters,” Paula Jones in particular a “loser,” and said that Bill Clinton was the real “victim.”
It makes perfect sense that these women would come forward now when they have more support and the stakes are much higher. Feminist attorney Gloria Allred, who often supports women making allegations against Republican politicians, is backing them up, putting the match up with Trump’s powerful team on a somewhat more even field. Finally, most of the alleged victims came forward after Trump claimed at the second debate that he had never committed the kind of sexual assault he described himself as having committed. If Trump lied about having not committed sexual assault, then the potential victims could be motivated not only to expose him but also to correct the record.
Did Trump commit sexual assault? Probably. Almost certainly. Can it be proved beyond a reasonable doubt? Maybe not. That’s not the question the voters are being asked. The question is, as a voter, do you want this man being president?
As voters, we aren’t taking away his freedom; we’re deciding whether to give him power over us.