First came the Trump video. Next came the wave of accusers. Then came a surge of calls to the D.C. Rape Crisis Center hotline.
Again and again, Indira Henard answered the phone. The women rang her after watching the news, listening to the radio or reading about the presidential candidates. Suddenly, they expressed, the election felt painfully intimate.
“When you’re a survivor of a sexual violation, listening to someone share their trauma can shake up your trauma,” said Henard, the center's executive director. “It can also give you the courage to share your story.”
The Rape Crisis Center hotline, a D.C. resource that typically receives between 75 and 100 calls each week, saw a 20 percent increase after The Washington Post published a 2005 tape on Oct. 8 that showed Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission.
“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” the Republican presidential candidate told former “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush in the recording. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p---y.”
Trump dismissed his comments as “locker room talk,” asserting he’d never actually done what he told Bush he had.
Since Trump launched his White House bid, 10 women have told reporters the GOP nominee had kissed or grabbed them without consent. Most have spoken in the past week, citing Trump’s denials as their motivation. He has continued to categorically deny the accusations.
Last week, Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s former television show “The Apprentice,” held a news conference in Los Angeles with civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred to accuse the GOP nominee of groping her breasts during a 2007 meeting.
Women who called the rape crisis hotline to talk about unwanted touches — and the pain they inflicted — largely drove the call spike, Henard said. The remarks from Trump's accusers had dredged up memories that Americans only recently started to develop a vocabulary to describe, she noted.
“Folks in the past didn’t have the words for it,” she said. “Someone touching their genitals, someone groping them … they didn’t think they could call it sexual assault.”
Only in 2012 did the FBI expand the definition of rape to include offenses beyond a man penetrating a woman against her will. It now encompasses sexual acts, regardless of the perpetrator's or victim's gender, without the consent of the victim.
The White House called the behavior that Trump described in the 2005 video sexual assault, which the Justice Department defines as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”
Trump's wife, Melania, called the his comments inappropriate, but also downplayed it as “boys talk” during a Monday interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “I know how some men talk, and that’s how I saw it.”
The majority of women who encounter sexual harassment never file a report, according to a June report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They tell advocates they worry men, especially men in power, will shrug off their concerns. They say they fear judgment or retaliation or a lack of understanding. Sexual harassment wasn't a recognized term until 1975.
Huffington Post reporter Laura Bassett wrote in an essay, published Tuesday, that Trump’s remarks had triggered a panic attack.
“It began as a pain in my stomach; not the sharp, grueling kind, but that feeling of uneasiness that knots up your insides,” she recalled. “Trump’s comments were personal. They triggered memories of an assault that I thought I had processed and put behind me more than a decade ago.”
She quoted other assault victims who experienced a similar reaction.
“When I actually heard the recording of Trump on the bus, when he said the thing about ‘grab their p---y,’ I definitely felt sick to my stomach,” Jade Salazar, 31, told Bassett. “Then to hear him say, ‘It’s locker room talk,’ that’s when it really started to make me sick and become something I couldn’t shake.”
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