By Tanya Sirotina (sophomore political science major)
I wish this election had come with a trigger warning.
It has been weeks since the morning when I watched the leaked footage of Donald Trump and Billy Bush on his tour bus, but I am still shaken. The vulgar language used by Donald Trump to describe his attempt to grope a woman disturbed me, and I was not alone.
Since then, Donald Trump has defended his language- he has brushed it off as “locker room talk” and has tried desperately to normalize it by saying that it was a long time ago and that the language he used is a lot more common than we may think. He accused his opponent, Hillary Clinton, of being complacent when her husband was being called out for sexually abusive behavior. This claim isn’t entirely false, but it still does not make standing behind such language okay. Since the tape was leaked, media cycle after media cycle has been dominated by sound bytes of Donald Trump saying that he gropes women without their consent and of Donald Trump saying incriminating things about children, as well as stories about the different alleged extramarital affairs of Bill Clinton. It has been difficult to remain politically engaged without hearing uncensored statements about the actions of these sexual predators.
For me, and for many other survivors, this kind of language is not very easy to digest. As someone who has had firsthand experiences with sexual assault, it is often difficult and emotionally triggering to hear about things like rape, threats of rape and other forms of unsolicited sexual remarks, especially without forewarning. This demographic of people is not small: according to studies done by the National Institute of Justice, 1 of 6 American women will be a victim of completed or attempted sexual assault in her lifetime. Trump’s misogyny and sexual violence has re-opened the wounds that many survivors work daily on trying to heal and overcome.
The use of such language in election coverage and, more importantly, by presidential nominees, is not something that should be taken lightly. It is simply not okay for public officials to say and do things that are blatantly violent and illegal and be able to continue their political careers uninterrupted. It is important to consider how we have allowed for sexual predators to control what we hear on the news and how safe we feel. Sexual assault is definitely an important topic for us to discuss, but not at the great cost of the context of a sexual predator running for President of the United States. Donald Trump, as well as his supporters who advocated for him even after he made these terrifying comments about women, have brought the threat of sexual assault close to home for many. They contributed to the normalization of sexual violence, illustrating that anyone, even the potential future President, can make sexually violent remarks and brush them off as normal, everyday “locker room talk.” They led us to believe that this language is okay, that it’s all part of some big inside joke amongst friends, and made us ignore the fact that language like this too often leads to violent actions and unsolicited remarks toward unwilling victims.
Now that the election is past us, we must assess where we are as a society. Did the dozens of nation-wide conversations about sexual assault have positive effects for those affected by sexual violence? Did they do anything to protect more individuals from being victims? The evidence for that is simply not there.
However, the fact that so many victims of sexual assault, including the women who are filing charges because of their experiences with men like Trump and Clinton, are speaking up is evidence to the idea that we are more educated. More and more of our population now understand the concepts of “consent” and “rape culture.” We are learning about ways that victims are silenced, about the way that our culture normalizes and enables sexual violence and even the ways we may be encouraging it in our complacency. We still have a lot to learn, but we are slowly getting better at identifying the problem. For me, and for the many other survivors like myself, this election has been a rough one to ride out, but we are resilient. The actions of Donald Trump have led to many triggering and painful conversations, but they have also created space for important discussions about the ways that sexually violent language is hurtful.