After a series of women accused Donald Trump of forcing himself on them, one of the Republican nominee's advisers took a swing at their credibility. “These allegations are decades old,” A.J. Delgado told MSNBC's Chris Hayes on Wednesday. “If somebody actually did that, Chris, any reasonable woman would have come forward and said something.”
Debra Katz, a civil rights lawyer in the nation's capital, disagreed. It's more common for women who endure harassment to stay silent, she said. They worry people won’t believe them. They fear retaliation.
National data backs her up. A June report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that just 6 to 13 percent of sexual harassment victims ever file a formal complaint, and less than a third share their experience with a manager or union representative.
“They anticipate and fear a number of reactions,” the report says. “Disbelief of their claim ... Damage to their career and reputation.”
A February survey of 2,235 American women, meanwhile, shows one in three respondents had encountered sexual harassment at work, and 71 percent chose not to tell their employer.
High-profile cases, however, tend to encourage victims to speak up, even if years have passed, Katz said. This summer, as several female Fox News employees accused media juggernaut Roger Ailes of pressuring them to have sex with him, her firm noted an upswing of women seeking legal advice. They saw others pursuing justice, she said, and felt emboldened to do the same.
The mountain of accusations against Bill Cosby inspired a similar trend. After dozens of women over the past two years publicly said Cosby raped them, police departments nationwide recorded increases in women reporting years-old sexual assaults. (New York Police Chief Bill Bratton called this “the Cosby effect.")
Last week, The Washington Post published a 2005 video that showed Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitals without their consent. In a recorded response, the candidate dismissed the conversation as “locker room talk” and denied making any unwanted advances.
“This has unleashed such anger among women,” Katz said. “Calling that ‘locker room talk’ diminishes their experiences.”
On Wednesday, two of Trump’s accusers took their stories to the New York Times. Jessica Leeds, 74, said Trump tried to slide his hand up her skirt on an airplane three decades ago. Rachel Crooks, 33, said she shook Trump’s hand in 2005 and, instead of letting go, he pulled her close for an uninvited kiss.
Both women said Trump’s recent denials pushed them to step forward.
On the tape, he can be heard saying, “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. Grab them by the p---y. You can do anything.”
When CNN’s Anderson Cooper pressed Trump during Sunday's presidential debate on whether he had ever done those things, the candidate replied, “No, I have not.”
Mindy McGillivray, 36, told the Palm Beach Post that his answer had prompted her to yell at her television, “You liar!” She says Trump groped her 13 years ago at a Mar-a-Lago event.
In an article released this week, People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff shared her own experience at Trump’s south Florida estate. “We walked into that room alone, and Trump shut the door behind us,” she wrote. “I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.”
Earlier this year, Jill Harth, a makeup artist who worked with Trump during his pageant days, accused the candidate of grabbing her under a table. “He’s saying from his words what he does,” she told New York magazine. “How can people not believe me now?”
Trump has denied every claim. At a Thursday rally, he tied Stoynoff’s credibility to her appearance. “Look at her,” he said. “Look at her words. I don't think so.” He has threatened to sue the New York Times and “politically motivated accusers.”
Some of the women said they kept quiet over fear of what Trump might do.
“I was afraid that a famous, powerful, wealthy man could and would discredit and destroy me,” Stoynoff said.
Clint Hackenburg, Crooks’s former boyfriend, recalled her having similar worries. “She felt like she couldn’t do anything to him because of his position,” he told the Times. “She was 22. She was a secretary. It was her first job out of college. I remember her saying, ‘I can’t do anything to this guy, because he’s Donald Trump.”
More from Wonkblog: