Trump sexual assault allegations: Why some victims stay silent
On the heels of defending a damaging 2005 video recording recently released wherein Donald Trump could be heard making lewd comments about his affinity for pursuing women by kissing and groping them, the Republican presidential nominee responded on Thursday to new allegations from five women, including a former reporter for People magazine, who collectively told the aforementioned magazine, The New York Times and the Palm Beach Post that he had sexually assaulted them several years ago.
"For The New York Times to launch a completely false, coordinated character assassination against Mr. Trump on a topic like this is dangerous," Jason Miller, Trump's campaign spokesman, said in a statement regarding the new allegations. "To reach back decades in an attempt to smear Mr. Trump trivializes sexual assault, and it sets a new low for where the media is willing to go in its efforts to determine this election."
Miller was referring to claims from 74-year-old Jessica Leeds, of New York, who told The Times that Trump grabbed her breasts and attempted to put his hand up her skirt without her consent more than 30 years ago in the first class cabin on a flight to New York. Another allegation in The Times’ report, from Rachel Crooks, claims Trump kissed the real estate developer on the mouth in 2005 without her consent, echoing comments from the recording, wherein he said, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
Although supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have been quick to condemn Trump for his comments and these new claims, Trump supporters and undecided skeptics alike are defending his character. Many people are questioning the veracity of these women’s allegations— and particularly, if their comments are true, why they are only speaking up now.
Trump has neither been charged with sexual assault nor have these women’s claims been proven true, but from a psychological standpoint, waiting to admit sexual assault is not out of the ordinary, several experts told FoxNews.com. In fact, only about 10 to 15 percent of sexual assault cases are reported due to the shame, guilt and self-blame that these traumatic events can trigger, Dr. Bob Geffner, president and founder of the Family Violence & Sexual Assault Institute, who has been treating sexual assault victims for nearly 40 years, told FoxNews.com.
“There’s no research study that indicates even half of these get reported to anybody at any time,” said Geffner, also a distinguished professor at the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego.
Experts define sexual assault as any type of unwanted, pressured or forced interaction of a sexual nature by one person on another. But an estimated 80 percent of these incidents do not involve what psychologists describe as the classic “stranger danger” scenario, wherein a man breaks into a woman’s bedroom with a ski mask and weapon, forcing himself on her against her futile attempts to scream and defend herself, Mindy Mechanic, a psychology professor at California State University Fullerton, told FoxNews.com. Rather, victims’ relatives, coworkers, friends or partners— be it a boyfriend, girlfriend, date, or a spouse— are the most common perpetrators of sexual assault.
“There’s that confusion that it doesn’t fit the paradigm, and if you don’t say this was a crime, then reporting isn’t even on the table,” Mechanic said.
It is only when victims acknowledge they have been harmed and feel they’re in a safe zone, where they will be believed and not scrutinized, that they are likelier to admit being sexually assaulted, Kenneth Yeager, director of the stress, trauma and resilience program of the Ohio State University Department of Psychology, told FoxNews.com.
Feelings of having strength in numbers can compel admission as well. For example, of the more than 50 women who have accused Bill Cosby of drugging and/or sexually assaulting them in alleged assaults that date back to 1965, it wasn’t until 2014 that a flood of allegations began to surface.
“It does play psychologically to safety— it does play psychologically to, ‘If this individual had the courage to do it, maybe I should have the courage to do it,’” he said. “We tend to model our behaviors and take risks based on what we see other people doing, and sometimes that risk being taken by another can motivate individuals to take the risks. Oftentimes the outcomes are mixed, but knowing that you won’t be doing that alone makes it easier to take the risk.”
Geffner said that perceived risk may be a lack of a support system or fear of public scrutiny.
Brian Pinero, vice president of victim services at RAINN, the largest advocacy network for sexual assault victims in the United States, told FoxNews.com that usually these incidents involve power imbalances, which make victims feel that if they speak up at the time, they will be penalized.
“A lot of times, it can be tied to the job,” Pinero said. “Power isn’t just defined by money or status at company— it could also be an important person in a family. So the ability to make a charge of that is, ‘Prove it.’ And that’s the constant narrative of victims: You have to explain why they should be believed and justify why they should be helped because it’s always, ‘What were you wearing?’ ‘What were you drinking?’ ‘Why were you there?’ ‘Where were your girlfriends?’”
Yeager likened delayed admission of sexual assault to that of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which research suggests soldiers can wait upwards of years to admit due to similar feelings of shame and barriers like stigma.
Just as with PTSD, sexual assault often brings feelings of depression, anxiety and flashbacks that can be debilitating for victims, and in severe cases, increase the risk of suicide.
“Whether it’s trauma of sexual assault or whether it’s trauma of a war situation, people tend to think in the terms of what are they in control of,” Yeager said.
He explained that most people are raised with something that’s called a world belief: that, if you treat people right and do things right, good things will happen to you. When that belief system is disrupted by something like a traumatic event, people naturally begin to question their reality and role in the situation. Questions like “What if?” and feelings of, “It’s all my fault” arise, “because they’re only looking at things they can control," Yeager said.
As these feelings of shame, and self-blame and doubt begin to compound, most victims don't tell their direct support systems about their experiences, much less law enforcement.
“If [victims] only begin to see the world as not a safe place, then you don’t talk about these things," Yeager said. "You don’t share them because if you share them, it’s only going to make things worse, and, ‘Good people don’t have these things happen to them’— and that’s the belief that becomes internalized when, in fact, they’re victims.”
Trump has threatened to pursue legal action against The Times and the Palm Beach Post, claiming their reports are libelous.