Sexual Assault and Privilege

ribbonEveryone has heard about Donald Trump’s comments suggesting that he has kissed and groped women without consent. We’ve all certainly heard about women coming forward to say that Mr. Trump did, in fact, make unwanted physical contact with them. And, now, we’ve all heard Mr. Trump dismiss these women by saying that they aren’t attractive enough for him.

As far as counter-claims go, that seems a pretty poor choice. First, it doesn’t do anything positive for the narrative that he is a misogynist. Attacking his accusers based on their looks makes him look like a sexist jerk, and for those who actually care about the structure of arguments, he is committing the argumentum ad hominem fallacy in that he is attacking the person instead of the claim. More importantly, structuring his denial around the fact that these women don’t meet his standards for attractiveness implies that if they were more attractive then he might, in fact, feel like sexually assaulting them. This defense was a poor strategic choice.

Sexual assault is no joke. It isn’t locker room banter, as Trump has suggested. As a veteran of 23 years of military service, I can attest to having heard some very lewd, very crass language. What I did not hear was boasting about forcing oneself on someone else. Such commentary would likely have prompted a call to the appropriate authorities. It wasn’t the language that was at issue. It’s not a problem that Trump used the word “pussy.” The problem is that he described making unwanted sexual contact, which is sexual assault by definition. Even his mention of kissing without consent can be construed to fall under the sexual assault umbrella.

Another argument offered by Trump is that the allegations we are hearing now are suspect because they didn’t happen in a timelier manner. That argument carries little weight. Sexual assault is underreported at colleges, in the military, and in general, owing in large part to women fearing that they won’t be believed, and a culture that routinely blames the victim. We know that our society equates wealth with power, and is hesitant to punish the wealthy and powerful. There are powerful societal pressures on victims not to report sexual abuse, so the timeliness factor is another weak defense.

Trump’s own statements are the most damning evidence that he has proclivities toward sexual assault, though I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way. He was born privileged, and simply believes that he is allowed to do whatever he wants. Those were his words, in fact. Why does he believe that? He believes that because that’s what our societal norms have taught him. Trump should serve as a wake-up call to the larger issues we have related to privilege as it relates to criminal justice in general, and specifically with regard to sexual assault. No one should have to suffer sexual assault, and no one should fear reprisal for reporting a sexual assault.