Rape survivors say they’re not impressed by Donald Trump’s apology for crass comments he made about women in 2005, and they hope the uproar will force both presidential candidates to talk about how they would address sexual assault in America.
A video released by the Washington Post on Friday showed Trump admitting to trying to have sex with a married woman and claiming his star power allows him to “grab [women] by the pussy. You can do anything.” The newly unearthed comments have sparked outrage across the political spectrum. Trump issued a statement saying it was “locker room banter” and apologizing if anyone was offended.
Sexual assault survivors aren’t buying it. Several who spoke with BuzzFeed News called Trump’s 2005 remarks “deeply concerning,” “disgusting,” “unacceptable,” and a clear example of rape culture. They’re hoping the media doesn’t downplay his comments as merely “vulgar” and that both presidential candidates are pressed at Sunday’s debate to discuss the problem of sexual violence.
“This has to be brought up during the debates and has to be treated as what it is, which is sexual assault, not lewd, typical male conversation,” Ali Safran, a survivor who started an awareness campaign called Surviving in Numbers, told BuzzFeed News. “If we and the media would let a presidential candidate off the hook for this kind of behavior, how can anyone expect any perpetrators of sexual assault will be held accountable?”
“This man has no regard for the concept of consent," said Wagatwe Wanjuki, who, with Kamilah Willingham, co-founded the activist group Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture.
“He literally bragged about his fondness for sexually assaulting women and how he is able to use his social capital to do so,” Willingham said. “I hope that the media will see this as an opportunity to explore the critical issues of sexual violence, misogyny, and rape culture, and I think that those covering the presidential race now have a responsibility to do so.”
“This has to be brought up during the debates, and has to be treated as what it is, which is sexual assault, not lewd, typical male conversation.”
Annie E. Clark, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, similarly told BuzzFeed News, “Mr. Trump wasn't just being offensive or rude, he was bragging about participating in sexual violence, and the headlines should reflect that reality.”
The revelation of Trump’s 2005 comments came on the same day that President Barack Obama signed a so-called “bill of rights” for sexual assault victims into law. The new law, which passed Congress unanimously, was celebrated by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who canceled an appearance with Trump after the tape came out.
Earlier in the week, Vice President Joe Biden appeared in a new public service announcement urging college students to step in and prevent people from taking advantage of a person too drunk to consent to sex. Biden then hosted rape survivors and advocates in Washington, DC, to celebrate their work addressing violence against women.
The issue of sexual violence has largely been absent from the 2016 campaign, but Clark is hopeful the controversy over Trump’s comments will prompt discussion of it at Sunday’s debate.
“President Obama and Vice President Biden have made violence against women and girls a top priority in recent years, and I’m eager to hear how each candidate will continue to work on this issue culturally, politically, and legally,” Clark said.
Hillary Clinton put out talking points in 2015 about what she’d do about rape on college campuses, and seven national victim advocacy groups said her campaign has reached out to discuss policy this year. Nearly a dozen major organizations in the field told BuzzFeed News they haven’t heard from Trump’s team.
“I’ve been waiting this entire political campaign for someone to bring it up,” said Brenda Tracy, a survivor who frequently speaks to college sports teams about violence against women. She was one of 15 survivors who signed an open letter earlier this year calling for presidential candidates to discuss policies addressing sexual violence.
The newly revealed Trump comments “perpetuate this idea that [women are] just here for men to use and rape and discard like we’re not even human beings,” Tracy said. If Trump is elected, Tracy said, it would mean issues like sexual assault and domestic violence are “all of a sudden not going to be important anymore, and it’s really, really scary, and it terrifies me.”
It’s concerning that a presidential nominee “espouses an attitude that fame creates an entitlement that excuses sexual aggression,” said Laura Dunn, a survivor who founded the nonprofit firm SurvJustice.
“There is absolutely concern” for advocates about Trump being elected president, said Ruth M. Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “I think we would have a lot more work to do as a society.”