Stormy Daniels has struck again — or rather, according to Ohio authorities, she “fondled.” The backward legislation that landed the adult-film actress in trouble has a lot in common with the conservative campaign to discredit her.
While performing her “Make America Horny Again” act on Wednesday night at a strip club in Columbus, Daniels was arrested on three counts of touching a patron (and, allegedly, undercover police officers) at a “sexually oriented business.” Ohio law, it turns out, prohibits “nude or seminude” employees from physical contact with customers who aren’t, uh, their immediate family members. The charges were dismissed on Thursday.
Daniels’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, called his client’s arrest a “sting operation” and a “setup” that “reeks of desperation” from those worried about the adult-film actress’s lawsuit against President Trump and Michael Cohen over the hush agreement governing her alleged 2006 affair with the president.
It’s fair to say things look fishy. That the charges were so speedily dismissed suggests there wasn’t much merit to them in the first place. The Columbus Dispatch reported last year that the “no-touching” law was rarely enforced, and had not been cited even once in the county in its 10 years of existence. Plus, as Avenatti said, Daniels had performed her act all across the country without any trouble.
But whether Avenatti is on-point or simply paranoid, it’s worth looking at the motivations behind Ohio’s so-called Community Defense Act and how they dovetail with the Trump camp’s attacks against Daniels.
Daniels was arrested, in effect, for being a stripper — for doing what customers come to strip clubs to see strippers do, and what, in many cases, they pay extra for. The law, backed by conservative Christian advocates, essentially seeks to stop strippers from stripping the way they want to, and the language it uses to do so is telling: A performer not only faces a penalty for touching a patron, but also for allowing herself to be touched by a patron.
The rule plays on people’s moral disapprobation to cast the dancer as a crook even in consensual interactions that clearly have two parties involved. (Patrons aren’t allowed to touch dancers, either, but there’s no rule against them “allowing” themselves to be touched.) She becomes responsible for someone else’s actions as well as her own, essentially because, by stripping in the first place, she has put herself in a compromising position.
The Trump team has tried to play the same trick throughout the Daniels scandal. Even as they’ve denied the president’s liaison with the porn star, they have taken pains to attack Daniels for what she does — to diminish her credibility and to diminish her claim that she deserves protection at all.
“I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman, or a woman of substance, or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman, and as a person,” Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said last month. He added, “Explain to me how she could be damaged. She has no reputation. If you’re going to sell your body for money, you just don’t have a reputation.”
Trump said Giuliani was “doing a very good job.”
No matter what happened, this argument goes, Daniels had it coming. It’s not so concerning to Trump’s defenders that he may have cheated on his wife four months after she gave birth to their first child together. Any fallout that harms him is Daniels’s fault, and any fallout that hurts her is her fault, too. The president is the president, after all. The porn star is a porn star.
This attitude — that a woman is responsible not only for what she does with her body, but for what a man does to it, too — is a variant of the “she-was-asking-for-it” argument so common among those who commit sexual assault. It took a while for society to stop accepting the defense so readily for any woman. But when it’s deployed against a stripper, or an adult-film actress, or someone else so many Americans still deem deviant, it’s easier to get away with. And perhaps it’s even easier for the president. After all, when you’re a star like he is, you can do anything.