On the eve of the 2016 election, I was among more than a dozen women who came forward about being forcibly grabbed, groped and kissed by Trump. We wanted to warn the country it was in danger of voting for a serial predator.
In People, I wrote about an incident at Mar-a-Lago while interviewing Trump and his wife for the magazine in December 2005. My assignment? Come back with pictures and a happy story about their first wedding anniversary and the impending birth of their first child.
I’d interviewed them many times before — in their home at Trump Tower for an “Apprentice” cover, at their star-studded wedding reception in Palm Beach, Fla. This interview began like the others. We chatted. We laughed. A photographer took photos by the pool. Then, when a very pregnant Melania Trump went upstairs to change, Donald Trump wanted to give me a tour of the place.
He led me into a room and shut the door. Seconds later, he grabbed me, pushed me against a wall and smashed his mouth against mine. I was stunned, speechless. I struggled to untangle myself. He insisted we were going to have an affair, boasting about the great sex we’d have.
Minutes later, we were back outside with Melania. I quickly finished the interview and raced back to my hotel, where shock morphed into fear, then rage.
The other women’s stories were just as disturbing: accounts of grabbing one woman’s breast at a sports event; groping another on an airplane; aggressive hands under a nightclub table to another. The list of alleged violations goes on and on.
Trump, of course, called us liars. He attacked our looks. At one pumped-up rally, he said of me: “Look at her. Look at her words. Tell me what you think. I don’t think so!”
We got hate mail, death threats.
And what did he get? The keys to the office once held by Washington, Lincoln and the Roosevelts.
After the election, I told myself his supporters hadn’t believed us. How else could they have voted for such a man? It took months before the cruel truth dawned on me — Trump supporters knew we were telling the truth. They just didn’t care.
Within a year of my story being published, the #MeToo movement exploded. Fox News ousted Bill O’Reilly. Harvey Weinstein was arrested. Bill Cosby went to prison. And I was busy writing stories about sexual assault victims finding their voices and bravely demanding justice for a new People series, “Women Speak Out.”
But still, the reckoning skipped Trump.
The other women and I watched as our perpetrator slithered away in plain sight the same way he escaped other sins — with a combo of threats, lies and luck. We were spectators watching the #MeToo movement from behind glass, banging on the pane with our fists, yelling: Hey! Us, Too!
At least we had each other — that was one bright spot in all this.
I first met a handful of the other “accusers” in January. We were strangers, members of a club that none of us had wanted to join. In time, we formed a sisterhood. Many suffered from the same, unique form of post-traumatic stress disorder; every time Trump bullied someone, we felt assaulted all over again. And since he often did this 10 times a day, we were in a constant state of re-triggering.
We helped each other keep calm and carry on. And together, we waited. We waited for the day when the nation’s leader would be held accountable.
Two weeks ago, 43 new allegations of sexual misconduct by Trump surfaced in a new book, “All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator,” by Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy. My sisters and I were not surprised; we suspect there are even more out there.
This week E. Jean Carroll — the Elle columnist who recently accused Trump of a long-ago sexual assault in a Bergdorf Goodman changing room — filed a defamation lawsuit against him in New York state Supreme Court.
Once again, the heat is on. The women are back, forces to be reckoned with, in the court of law and public opinion. And once again, an election is looming.
But for us, the question remains: Will this, finally, be the time when enough people care?