BREAKING THE SILENCE

In Donald Trump, I See My Own Attacker

Like many women, I’ve survived harassment and outright assault. Despite these experiences, I never expected to see a presidential candidate act that way.

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast

This Tuesday, on my way home from work, two men saw me walking toward them on the street in Manhattan and surrounded me, shouting about my physical appearance.

This Wednesday, while walking on a different street, two men shouted at me from a doorway in the same tone, while their eyes moved up and down my body and they licked their lips.

These brief encounters were not the first I’ve experienced. They weren’t even the most notable.

Like many women, I’ve been sexually assaulted.

Like most women, I’m also constantly subjected to a string of subtle, sexist assaults by street harassers, by men on the subway, by whomever. Normally, I’m able to compartmentalize them and go about my day.

But for many of us, that task became more difficult when The Washington Post on Friday published a video of Donald Trump—the Republican nominee for president—using exceptionally vulgar language to describe women’s “big phony tits” and his affinity for grabbing them “by the pussy.”

“You can do anything,” he said, noting that sometimes he likes to pop a Tic Tac in case he kisses a woman without her consent. Men around him smiled and laughed and played along.

“When you’re a star,” he said, “they let you do it.”

It was shocking to me—a reporter who has followed the campaign for nearly a year and who writes about sexual assault regularly—in a way that I had not been shocked in a long time.

Officials and civilians alike have rushed to condemn the comments, and to argue that those words were not mere “locker-room talk,” as the real-estate mogul and his supporters have repeatedly claimed.

“I think it’s locker-room banter,” Eric Trump told the Colorado Gazette, repeating his father’s defense. “I think sometimes when guys are together they get carried away, and sometimes that’s what happens when alpha personalities are in the same presence.”

At least four women who competed in a Miss Teen USA beauty pageant have said Trump walked into their dressing room while the young contestants were not clothed, BuzzFeed reported on Wednesday. Some of the teens were as young as 15 years old at the time and described the jarring experience as “shocking” and “creepy.”

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Former Miss Arizona Tasha Dixon told reporters on Tuesday that when she was 18 years old, her fellow contestants for Miss USA were forced to greet and interact with Trump while they were topless and naked.

“He just came strolling right in,” Dixon said. “The owner came waltzing in when we were naked or half-naked in a very physically vulnerable position and then to have the pressure of the people that worked for him telling us to go fawn all over him, go walk up to him, talk to him, get his attention.”

Trump has openly and publicly bragged about invading those same dressing rooms. He owned several beauty pageants for years, including Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA.

In 2005, Trump told Howard Stern on his radio show: “I’ll go backstage before a show and everyone’s getting dressed and ready and everything else. And you know, no men are anywhere... You know they’re standing there with no clothes. Is everybody OK? And you see these incredible looking women.”

He added, “I sort of get away with things like that.”

Former Miss Vermont Teen USA Mariah Billado said, “I remember putting on my dress really quick because I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a man in here.’”

Trump reportedly said something like, “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.”

Dixon believes Trump “owned the pageant for the reasons to utilize his power to get around beautiful women.”

“Who do you complain to?” she asked. “He owns the pageant. There’s no one to complain to. Everyone there works for him.”

It’s easy to imagine what a President Trump would believe he could “get away with.”

By participating in beauty pageants, women and girls are not automatically consenting to being ogled naked in a changing room. In the same way, by working at Fox News, women were not automatically consenting to being harassed by Trump’s pal and campaign advisor Roger Ailes.

Will we soon live in a world where female reporters and politicians and state leaders all must subject themselves to the proximity of a man accused of groping and harassing women?

Because that’s what is at stake here.

When I was working at the Texas Legislature in 2013, I was inundated by comments from various men in the building nearly every day. And I wrote about them making inappropriate remarks to female legislators and staffers and reporters alike. After that story published, I received countless Facebook messages and Twitter DMs from women in Texas and in other statehouses all over the country—including New York—about their similar experiences. One Texas state senator called me to share her own story off the record.

After Friday’s video, I spent the better part of the weekend thinking about my own sexual assault, and the way that man spoke to me a few years ago. I met him in a courthouse while working on a story.

But despite all of those private experiences, I have never heard any public figure—let alone a presidential candidate—speak that way.

Until now.

This is a man who has been endorsed and sanctioned by a major political party in the United States. That makes his actions and words more impactful.

When I tweeted that the video was “shocking” to me because of my own assault, Trumpkins on Twitter accused me of making it up and of being a “shill” for Hillary Clinton. (There’s a reason women hesitate to speak about their own experiences.)

Trump’s words on Friday echoed my own assailant’s tone. In his words, I hear the same words I’ve heard on the street and by men who’ve grabbed me on the subway.

Since then, I hear a constant echo of those words and of that tone, and I feel that gaze all of the time. I never thought I’d have to worry about a president virtually cat-calling half of the country—and now that I have, it is inescapable, and it is impossible to ignore.