Thursday, June 01, 2023 |
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In the aftermath of the historic jury verdict holding former President Donald Trump responsible for an act of sexual violence against writer E. Jean Carroll and years’ worth of defamatory attacks on her credibility, much of the focus has been on Trump: What this (and trials to come) will do to his aspirations to regain the presidency, controversy over CNN’s decision to offer him a Town Hall platform, and who among his followers might fall away.
Getting far less attention, however, is the impact of this $5 million vindication of Carroll’s claims on other, long-silent survivors of sexual trauma. This should have been a moment of vicarious triumph for them. But others are worried that a backlash will build among Trump’s vast and avid fan base, setting the stage for a regressive shift in attitudes toward sexual violence survivors and potential repeal of laws that have opened the door for long-delayed justice.
No matter what they feel about Trump, Americans must not allow that to happen.
Certainly, this civil verdict forces a difficult decision for his fan base and political allies. There are three choices here: They can back away from Trump, which doesn’t seem to be happening among many of his supporters. They can pretend this never happened. Or they can go on the attack, renewing the savage attacks on Carroll’s credibility and casting aspersions on the legal framework that allowed her to raise her hand in an oath, tell her story — and be believed.
Either of the last two options will shore up cruel myths that have forced many survivors of sexual violence into the shadows: For too long, society insisted that there was a “right” way to pursue justice in these cases. That victims had a responsibility to collect all available proof of their assault and come forward immediately or resign themselves to eternal silence. That survivors who went on to lead apparently successful lives must not have been all that traumatized. That there was no way to prove allegations of events that were years or decades past.
Carroll’s case exploded all those erroneous beliefs. She explained that, after Trump attacked her in the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York City, she was ashamed, intimidated by Trump’s social standing and fearful that her career in publishing would be cut short.
She described how she suffered long term effects from her assault, including her inability to form a romantic partnership with anyone. And her case was buttressed by testimony from two women who were assaulted in similar fashion and friends whom Carroll told about the assault.
All this has been known since 2019, when Carroll first went public with these allegations. All of this was ignored by many of Trump’s supporters, some of whom blasted out statements that were remarkably similar to Trump’s claims that the jury had just declared to be defamatory.
We were particularly dismayed when Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted out: “The jury is a joke. The whole case is a joke.”
It was not a joke to Carroll, or to the other women who have accused the former president of assaults that took much the same pattern as the attack in the Bergdorf Goodman dressing room. And it certainly is not a joke to hundreds of thousands of survivors of sexual violence who have kept their silence for years.
It is possible to support Trump without shaming the people he’s assaulted, bullied and hurt. All his supporters have to do is admit the obvious truth: They don’t care about those Trump has hurt. They don’t care about the swindles, the obvious lies, the often-flagrant violations of law and protocol. They are too enmeshed in his cult of personality to let go now.
They must confront their own refusal to hold Trump to any standard of decency or morality — not shift that burden onto Carroll, and by extension, onto the backs of the countless men and women whose hopes of someday seeing justice have been rekindled by this verdict.