More and more of Donald Trump’s alleged victims are coming forward to accuse the presidential candidate of sexual harassment and assault. Some are asking why the women would have waited this long to come forward — and the hashtag #WhyWomenDontReport is now trending as a response, with survivors sharing their personal stories of why they didn't report their own assault or harassment. Donald Trump has responded by denying the allegations, threatening to sue newspapers that report on the story, and attempting to discredit his accusers by insinuating they aren't attractive enough for him to harass or assault them.
Only between 15 and 35 percent of assaults are reported to the police, and there are many reasons why victims stay silent, from fear of reprisal to lack of proof, from the perception that their incident was "not important enough" to the belief that police wouldn't do anything to help. For every type of assault or harassment, from the alleged nonconsensual gropings and verbal abuse of Donald Trump to the violent forcible assaults that fit more narrow and archaic definitions of what constitutes rape, there is a reason why a survivor may choose not to come forward. When it came to my own assault, I finally spoke up only when I thought the other option was death.
I learned why women didn't come forward early on. When I was 13, there was a story in the news about a woman whose rapist was being let free. The judge claimed that because she was wearing jeans, it would be impossible for him to remove her pants. The judge said she must have helped. My mother told me this was wrong and that the man should be in jail, but that this happened all the time. I learned then that no matter what happens to her, a woman who is assaulted is complicit in the eyes of the law.
Then there was the girl in my 8th grade class who got pregnant, and must be a slut. The girl whose stepbrothers were probably screwing her, so she was a slut. The girl who slept with half a football team while blackout drunk, who was definitely a slut.
And then, when I was just 14, I was raped at a party. My attacker was a junior, and I was a freshman. He trapped me in the basement and bullied me into drinking, and drinking, and drinking, until I couldn’t stand. Then he made me say the word, “yes,” and he raped me.
I wasn’t wearing jeans, I was wearing a skirt. I hadn’t been abducted or tortured, I’d gone to the party of my own free will. I had been to rallies and chanted, “Whatever I wear, wherever I go, YES MEANS YES and no means no.” And I had said the magic word.
Even after I tried to kill myself after my rape, I didn’t tell anyone what happened to me. I would see my attacker on the street and vomit, while something inside me screamed, “Why don’t you tell the police?” but a thousand other thoughts shut the first one out.
Because I was drinking and they’ll say I wanted this.
Because I said “yes” when I thought it would help me escape.
Because while I was still laying in a closet, crying and wiping my vomit off myself, he was telling people we’d “hooked up,” and I didn’t say anything then.
Because he’s popular, and I’m nobody, and it’s his word against mine.
Because I should have known better.
Because it must have been my fault.
The next year, a man flashed me on the street. I went to the police and told them there was a half-naked adult male three blocks from the station. They told me to go home or they’d arrest me for being out past curfew.
When I walked home from high school, men screamed obscenities from moving cars, and people on the street went past as though it was the most normal thing in the world.
When I was 18, a man grabbed my breasts and told me it “didn’t count,” because he was gay. Because he wasn’t attracted to me, objectifying my body was fine. Nobody in the club batted an eye.
When I was 19, a man older than my grandfather got six inches from me and licked his lips, saying, “I wasn’t no bottle baby,” leering at my chest.
At 21, a coworker harassed me about my chest. When I went to HR, they blamed me for having large breasts, and told me to keep my coat on at work.
That same year, a man I dated asked about my rape. When I told him, he said, “It could have been worse,” and then later raped me himself. When I climbed into the shower, after three days unable to stand, it was with the agonizing thought — All the DNA is gone by now, anyway. There’s nothing I can do. If I could remain silent about being raped at 14, why couldn’t I bear these other burdens?
Weeks after the assault, I told my friends. And when they stood by me, my assaulter became unhinged. He followed me to and from work. He broke into my apartment building. When after two years of stalking, I thought he was going to kill me, so I went to the police. I brought pages of threats he’d sent, transcripts of voicemails, emails, letters. The officers said, “Why didn’t you say anything until now?”
“What do you want to get out of this?”
“You seem a little hysterical.”
“It sounds like a bad breakup, to me.”
Women don’t come forward because sexual crimes happen all the time , and when we do come forward, we’re likely to be publicly shamed and have our character dragged through the mud, all while being accused of spitefully trying to ruin our attackers' lives and reputations. The police are likely to believe we're lying, and the chance our assailants will ever go to court, let alone jail, is horrifically slim. Only 12 percent of rapists are ever arrested, and only three percent ever go to jail. Justice is so far and unlikely, we ask ourselves if it’s worth it to try; if standing in front of the police, a jury, a judge, and our attackers and baring the most broken and raw parts of ourselves is worth the pain of watching that judge decide his “bright future” is more important than ours. That his suffering the terrible ordeal of accusation is more valid than our violation. That his life means more than ours does.
Women don’t come forward to report sexual crimes because we have so much to lose. If we call out our bosses, we could be fired. If we call out our friends, we could be alone. If we call out our teachers, we could be uneducated. If we call out our colleagues, we could be ostracized. If we call out our partners, they might hurt us; every day, three women in the U.S. are killed by their intimate partners.
We tell ourselves, “It could have been worse,” as though trauma is a contest. As though if you get assaulted badly enough you win a prize — a shot at justice. Only trauma isn’t a competition. Everyone’s experience is valid. Everyone’s pain is real. I wasn’t abducted and tortured and gang raped and murdered, but that doesn’t mean I was not deeply and permanently altered. Donald Trump's alleged victims weren't raped, but they tell stories of how being victimized left long, painful impacts on their lives. Though decades may have passed, speaking up still terrifies them.
Women tend to feel they have nothing to gain by speaking out. Their chances for justice are slim, and the likelihood of public humiliation and retaliation is high. But we can and must own the truth. Donald Trump's alleged victims are coming forward now not only because of the threat of his becoming president, but because of the conversation the Access Hollywood tapes sparked. People across the country, women and men, are speaking publicly and are saying that THIS IS NOT OK. Democrats and Republicans alike are asserting that sexual assault isn't "locker room talk" — it is a crime. They are laying the blame where it belongs, with abusers. And when people are willing to see what happened to you as a crime, it is easier to acknowledge that to yourself.