Donald Trump recently launched a fierce attack at author E Jean Carroll in a misguided attempt to discredit her rape allegations against him.
The former US President took to his social media platform Truth Social on Wednesday (26 April), ahead of the first day of testimony in the civil trial, and unleashed a series of victim blaming assumptions - all of which should do nothing to help his defence.
“She didn’t scream?” He wrote of Carroll. “There are no witnesses? Nobody saw this? She never made a police complaint? If I was seen there with a woman - BIG PRESS. SCAM!”
Aside from being both highly insensitive to sexual assault victims everywhere and unwise given that the case is currently being heard in court, Trump’s rant - in an apparent attempt to prove his innocence - is also deeply flawed.
His intention of course is to undermine his accuser’s credibility. The not-so-subtle implication being that if you didn’t scream, you weren’t raped; if there are no witnesses, you weren’t raped; and if you never made a police complaint, you weren’t raped.
Let’s deal with these claims one at a time. While some victims may scream, shout, or fight back in response to a rape or attempted rape, many others respond very differently.
Charity Rape Crisis says there are actually five common responses to sexual assault - all of which are our bodies’ way of reacting to extreme fear, harm or danger. These include:
- Fight: physically fighting, pushing, struggling, and fighting verbally e.g. saying ‘no’.
- Flight: putting distance between you and danger, including running, hiding, or backing away.
- Freeze: going tense, still, and silent.
- Flop: similar to freezing, except your muscles become loose and your body goes floppy. Your mind can also shut down to protect itself.
- Friend: ‘Befriending’ the person who is dangerous, for example by placating, negotiating, bribing or pleading with them.
‘Freezing’ is actually one of the most common reactions according to Noel McDermott, a psychotherapist who treats clients who have suffered traumatic experiences. He explained that the freeze response has evolved from prey staying still to become invisible to predators - or from animals playing dead, again to protect themselves.
“Obviously a rapist is not a lion trying to eat us so why choose ‘playing dead’?” he said in an interview with Refinery29. “Mostly because the [part of the brain which reacts] is not conscious. It’s making decisions on the basis of stress hormone levels.”
But even if ‘freezing’ is common, all of the responses - as well as any which may not fall neatly into these categories - are valid in their own right.
Next, we’ll move on to Trump’s argument that no one saw the alleged assault - or that there were no witnesses. Addressing this seems pretty pointless given that this topic is notoriously one of the main legal issues faced when it comes to prosecuting rape.
Due to the nature of the offence, other people usually aren’t present. It’s one of the reasons the phrase ‘he said, she said’ gets thrown around so much.
In terms of Trump’s attack of Carroll in regard to never making a police complaint, the numbers speak for themselves. Rape Crisis says that five in six women and four in five men do not report their rape to the police.
This can be for many reasons. People see no point due to the low charge rate, they can’t face the long trial process, they’re dissuaded by stories of traumatic reporting experiences, or, they fear being subjected to exactly the kinds of attitudes that Trump is perpetuating.
It makes some sense that Trump is clasping at straws, as he of course doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to comments on rape and sexual assault. He previously appeared to boast about how being famous allows you to sexually assault women, infamously remarking in a leaked recording: “They let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.”
He may also be trying to discredit Carroll’s allegations because he is concerned about his own credibility. He’s been a bit all over the place: first claiming he never met Carroll, then admitting he had when shown a picture of the pair together. He then argued she was “not his type” - suggesting this was a reason why he wouldn’t rape her - before later mistaking her in another photo for his second wife, Marla Maples.
Whatever his reasons, it’s still infuriating - even if not surprising - that the former US President’s defence has resorted to victim blaming, perpetuating harmful myths, and diminishing a woman’s voice. The only impacts these kinds of comments have are to make it even more difficult for victims to come forward - and to shift the focus away from the person who is being accused.
So, to be clear: women can respond however they want to something as traumatic as rape or sexual assault. If they don’t respond the way you expect them to, that does not make them less of a victim - nor does it mean their account should be diminished.
If you have been affected by issues discussed in this article, Rape Crisis has a 24-hour helpline which you can call for free on 0808 500 2222.