The first lady is right: enough is enough. But first we need starting to hold enablers and bystanders accountable for sexual assault.
Since Donald Trump’s videotaped confession of sexual assault came to light last week, we have been subjected to a sickening string of allegations from women who have recounted being groped and harassed by the GOP nominee. These include a woman who told the New York Times that Trump—a complete stranger—stuck his hand up her skirt on a first-class flight to New York in the 1980s, and a People magazine reporter who said that in 2005, Trump pinned her against a wall and forced his tongue down her throat. As Michelle Obama said on Wednesday, “Enough is enough.”
As a society, we have to acknowledge that successful sexual assault–successful, that is, from the perspective of perpetrator—isn’t a one-man job. It needs a crowd of excusers, enablers, and minimizers to ensure that the assault doesn’t end badly for the perpetrator, even if the victim complains. In the various institutions of American society, men (and it is almost always men) who commit sexual assault have mostly been able to count on that crowd of enablers. That has been particularly true of privileged men like Trump.
Although Trump has denied these new allegations, they have the ring of truth. Over the years, we have heard him on Howard Stern and listened to the similar stories of other women about his long history of sexual harassment and forced sexual encounters. We can also recognize the telltale signs of male entitlement in his bluster and self-absorption. The important question now is whether GOP leaders will repudiate Trump once and for all or continue to minimize both the seriousness of his offenses and their implications for his candidacy.
But it is not just the Republican Party. Examples of enabling and excusing sexual misconduct elsewhere abound. The military has promoted officers who rape while drumming out their female victims. Colleges and universities have looked the other way at serial sexual assault, particularly when committed by athletes and professors. Even in those rare instances when victims file criminal charges, judges often deliver unreasonably lenient sentences, sending the message that these crimes are just not all that serious.
One of the most notorious examples in the latter category is the case of Brock Turner, a recruited athlete at Stanford who was sentenced to only a few months in jail, despite his conviction for three felony sex crimes for assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster during a frat party. The judge disregarded the victim’s compelling statement asking for a longer sentence. Turner blamed his crime on Stanford’s “party culture.” Turner’s father, another enabler, argued to Judge Aaron Persky that it would be unfair to send his son to prison over what he described as “20 minutes of action.” The judge agreed, and made an exception. Prison, according to Judge Persky would “have a severe impact on him.”
The script that Trump’s team has trotted out—“It was a long time ago, it doesn’t reflect who he really is, he didn’t really mean it, it was just locker room talk, he respects women, it’s not a big deal, let’s move on ”— is straight out of the standard repertoire of minimization and denial for enablers. One can easily imagine Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions arguing that the footage only reflects 20 minutes of action out of Trump’s lengthy career in business and philanthropy.
This litany of excuses is standard because it almost always works. Men usually get away with it. Women know this. We’re not dumb and we know what comes next. We remember the enablers of the Senate Judiciary Committee who gave Clarence Thomas a pass to the Supreme Court.
That explains the current wave of unrestrained, snarling rage from women—including some Republican women who are literally losing it over the fact that their party leadership will not withdraw their endorsements of this serial sexual predator. How can it be 2016 and nothing has changed? How can we still be dealing with this? But the this is not just Trump’s hideous conduct, though that is plenty bad. Our anger is not solely or even primarily directed at Trump. It is directed at the powerful men and institutions, like House Speaker Paul Ryan and the RNC, that refuse to hold him accountable.
Over and over, the institutions that women count on to protect us have betrayed us, exacerbating the injury of the assault. Men in power have valued the careers of other men—as athletes, as soldiers, as corporate officers – as politicians – far more than they have valued our right to be free of the grossest and most personal kinds of violations. They have looked the other way.
As a result, sexual assault is epidemic. For example, at Stanford University where I teach, nearly 40 percent of undergraduate women experience some form of sexual assault or serious sexual misconduct. The figures are even worse for some groups such as women of color, disabled women and LGBT students. Yet fewer than 3 percent of these assaults are reported to campus authorities.
One reason may be that the same survey found that only 28 percent of women and 45 percent of men think that it’s very likely that Stanford would hold anyone found responsible for sexual assault accountable. It is these university officials, seen by many as enablers, who often draw the strongest fire from students.
In this respect, the anger over sexual assault shares elements in common with the anger over police abuses in minority communities. In both cases, the lack of accountability and the willingness of authorities to enable and excuse the conduct of offenders often draws the sharpest protest.
Women are demanding greater accountability not only from offenders but also from enablers and their institutions. We want an end to the easy expectation of impunity. We have deployed a mix of shame, legal pressure, and publicity in various domains in order to raise the cost of bystanding.
For example, Baylor recently fired both University President Kenneth Starr and its popular football coach for failing to respond appropriately to sexual assaults by members of the football team. At UC Berkeley, President Janet Napolitano—perhaps wanting to avoid Starr’s fate—pushed out both the provost and the chancellor over the failure to properly handle sexual harassment and assault. In the military, some officers are finally being disciplined for failing to respond to sexual assault. Here in Silicon Valley, women have lined up behind a recall election campaign against Judge Persky.
The tactical logic of this movement is clear. Going after enablers cuts off the oxygen for sexual assault. When university administrators lose their sinecures, or generals get hauled before Congressional committees to be railed at by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill, and colonels see their careers get cut short because they failed to stop sexual assault by the captains and majors under them—perpetrators get a little more lonely, and a little more likely to face the consequences of their assaults.
What of those officials who have refused to withdraw their endorsements from Trump, including the RNC, Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell? As of this writing, Trump continues to be endorsed by hundreds of Republican elected officials, including more than 2 dozen US senators. An endorsement may be given for party loyalty or to appeal to a faction of supporters, but its public meaning is that the person endorsed is the person best suited to hold an office. Discovering that their candidate has bragged about committing sexual assault leaves his endorsers in a serious bind. Some like John McCain, who is in a tight race against a female opponent, have decided to bolt.
Donald Trump’s shock and anger at these defections is palpable, and understandable. These losses are a significant deviation from the enabler’s playbook. It appears, however, that for the most part Republicans are sticking to the script. Trump is mostly receiving pro-forma condemnations of his statements without losing endorsements. That’s the political equivalent of Judge Persky’s six month sentence—a slap on the wrist that won’t “have a severe impact” on him.
Trump’s confession of sexual assault puts an excruciating question to the GOP: What happens when a major political party and the crowd of enablers for a sexual assault perpetrator are one and the same, when the GOP becomes the Grand Old Frat Party?
For some, particularly Mormon Republicans, this is a moral question with an obvious answer, and they abandoned Trump in droves after the tape became public. For most, though, it is a political question: Will women apply the same logic to the Republican Party as to senior military officers, university presidents, or judges who excuse sexual assault in their domains? If so, the political survival of the party and its leadership depends on cutting ties to Trump now. If not, then Trump is a short-term problem that the voters will solve in a few weeks, and it makes no sense to sacrifice the principle of party unity.
Most Republicans seem to believe that they and their party will not be held accountable for their enabling of Trump. Women have the power to prove them wrong. Let’s use it.
Original article posted by Politico
By Michele Landis Dauber
Click here to read the original article.