On being a sexual assault survivor in Trump’s world

It’s now officially one year since Donald Trump was elected to office as the President of the United States. And while his presidency has been marred by more than a few setbacks (including an ongoing FBI investigation, failure to pass a number of bills promised in his campaign, and approval ratings lower than any modern president to date), the whole Trump train keeps on chugging along.

For many Americans, as well as the rest of the world, witnessing not only his election but the continued support of his actions and policies from his base has been difficult. But for the survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and rape, it is nearly unbearable.

Not only does has Trump been accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment by fifteen different women — including an accusation of assault and rape by his former wife, Ivana (which was settled out of court, followed by a gag order against her) — he has also been accused of walking in on contestants of the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants while they were undressing multiple times from 1997 to 2006. And there was the infamous Billy Bush tape where Trump was recorded making vulgar comments about women he knew and bragging about being able to sexually assault them with no repercussions due to his celebrity status:

“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. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…

“Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Even with the most lenient view in favour of Mr. Trump, believing all 15 women and all the contestants of the various pageants are not telling the truth, you still have to contend with the fact that the US President is a man who believes sexual assault is acceptable behaviour and is worth bragging about to colleagues.

But of course we must believe women, because we know the process of coming forward against someone who has harassed, assaulted, or attacked you is incredibly difficult, particularly when were or continue to be in a position of power over you, particularly when they are a well-known public figure, and particularly if that figure has legions of fans willing to come to their defence by attacking and ridiculing the accusers. And that’s not even getting the shame and guilt many victims reinforce on themselves, feeling that being assaulted or harassed is somehow their fault instead of their assailant’s.

We know this because it has happened so many times before, most recently with the stories published about comedian Louis CK. A number of women who accused CK were not only pressured by him and his publicist to back down, threatening repercussions to their careers, but were also mocked by members of the public on social media and online publications.

There is no advantage for women to allege assault or harassment that never happened. Even if you aren’t bullied and demeaned by random strangers online, you are still expected to provide proof of an event that you were not prepared for, when you were being preyed on at your most vulnerable, when your mind was not focused on “Quick, get some tangible evidence” so much as “How do I get out of this situation/How do I get them to stop.”

Even if we put all that extraneous pressure aside, survivors of sexual assault and abuse in the age of Trump are still dealing with burdens few people are ever equipped to carry. It’s one thing to be harassed, assaulted, or raped by someone and never see them face justice. But seeing a person who openly boast about assaulting women be subsequently rewarded with the highest position of power in the country is a kind of pain and fear few people have ever had to face. That is, until last November.

Although I don’t want to share anything here that isn’t my story to tell, I can say I have seen innumerable women share not only their own survival stories, but also share how seeing Trump become the leader of the free world has taken a serious toll on their mental health and overall wellbeing.

A lot of individuals love to use the word “trigger” as a way to mock others for being too “sensitive” or “PC.” But the concept of triggering relates directly to PTSD and having a traumatic experience—the kind that gives you nightmares for the rest of your life, the kind you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy—resurface, often in a visceral, inescapable way. Something that triggers a horrifying experience often forces you to relive some or every aspect of the event, which can incapacitate even the most hardened marines.

Imagine if every time you turned on the news, went on social media, or even just started talking to a coworker about your weekend, you were reminded of not just your worst, most painful memory (or memories), but were taken back to an experience where you had no control, no agency. Where you felt nothing but dirt and guilt and shame. Where you were told you were nothing, you were worth nothing, and that you deserved the horrors you were being given. And every feeling, every sensation of that part of your life came flooding back, taking control of your body. But it’s still 9:00 on a Monday, so you have to pretend you’re feeling none of that and everything is just fine, even though every ounce of your being is screaming that it isn’t.

That is many people’s lives right now.

The #MeToo campaign only gave the public a tiny glimpse of just how prevalent sexual assault is against women in our culture. And those were only the stories that people felt safe enough to share, let alone the ones that could get them fired, or invite other unwanted repercussions. #MeToo still hasn’t gone far enough in exposing the sheer emotional, physical, and mental damage that has been done to far, far too many women  on every inch of the globe.

For many of these women, teens, and even girls, Trump is an ever-present reminder of what they’ve been through or are still going through. Some woman on Twitter have been shared how even the way Trump speaks and conducts himself is incredibly reminiscent of their abusers. The confidence he exudes as both an unapologetic narcissist and as a regular harasser of his rivals and those he deems a threat to his image contribute to an overall image that is just too much to take for many survivors. It would be difficult to see him on TV or on the street just once, let alone witness wall-to-wall coverage of his antics, his every word, and the vehement defences of his actions by his most ardent supporters.

Although it may come as some consolation to see celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis CK face real consequences for their years of disgusting and disparaging behaviour, Trump continues to preen his feathers on his ill-gotten throne in Washington, D.C. He has yet to display anything resembling remorse for his actions (even the ones he has admitted to) and continues to surround himself with enough sycophants and invertebrates to guarantee he never has to face more than five minutes of criticism without a follow-up back rub of affirmation.

The coke-summoning, double-scoop shovelling lifestyle he has built for himself within the White House bears a striking resemblance to the kind of self-care so many victims and survivors have a hard time giving themselves. Having faced the kind of trauma most people cannot (or will not) imagine, supplemented with self-shaming in addition to the fear, guilt, and ridicule Twitter and news networks love to reinforce with a vengeance, many survivors still struggle to go easy on themselves, to know they are human beings of value and life, worthy of so much more than the ugliness they have faced.

Yet, Trump, or rather his legion of apologists and proponents, maintains a pudgy-handed grasp not only on the executive branch of America, but the not oft-interrupted attention of the world and the sadly fragile and all-too-frequently mistreated conscious and subconscious minds of each and every survivor.

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