Minneapolis, MN – Recently the Washington Post exposed Donald Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush where he bragged about sexually assaulting multiple women. Then Trump dismissed the discussion as “locker room talk” and in the presidential debate denied that he had ever sexually assaulted anyone. Every time I turn on the radio or open my computer I see or hear woman after woman accusing Trump of sexual assault. Since that time I have found myself experiencing moments of rage, depression and anxiety and have been shocked at the ways these events have rocked the U.S.
Many women, like myself, have experienced profound flashbacks to times when we were sexually assaulted. These flashbacks have been triggered by the comments of right wing commentators who call these charges “made up” and who call women who speak out “media whores”. But these instances of PTSD have also been triggered by those who denounce this national conversation as a “distraction.”
This is a key moment in the national discussion about gender relations and women’s oppression. When I was in college Anita Hill went on national television to accuse Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and began a similar national conversation. Before 1991 many of us had no language for what we experienced and did not feel we had community support to challenge the sexual harassment we faced. When I was in college in the 1990s we were just starting to have a conversation about consent and date rape. But this conversation has deepened over the past 20 years and now we have created an understanding that yes means yes and about what is really needed for consent.
I have learned a lot from this generation of student activists about the importance of naming aspects of rape culture. I would have benefited from this analysis as a college student. When I was propositioned and touched by a man who was using his power over me I didn’t have words to describe what had happened to me but I was fortunate that when I did finally tell someone what happened she believed me and got me help so I could get out of that situation.
Through my discussions with women the past two weeks it is apparent that almost every woman I know has experienced some form of sexual harassment and assault. This makes sense when you consider that one in four women are raped in college and nine in ten of them knew their rapist. Such a prevalence of severe sexual assault requires an environment steeped in all levels of it.
As our awareness of the severity of the problem has grown, we are increasingly dismayed by the lack of progress in combatting it in the general population. Many of us have been shocked at the recent treatment of rapists by the American ‘judicial system’ and have wanted there to be a much larger understanding of the messages boys and girls receive that promote rape.
Now, while everyone in the U.S. is talking about Trump’s bragging that he sexually assaults women, is a critical moment. Women across the country are telling their stories about sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape – many for the first time – in order to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of rape culture. Men have the opportunity to denounce Trump and rape culture and to demand more respect for women. We must seize this chance to reshape our society’s cultural norms.
Some people have made a significant error. Those who view the national outrage around sexual assault “a distraction” during this presidential election are siding against women’s liberation. The issue of sexual assault is more important than who wins the presidential election. Whoever is elected, Clinton or Trump, will continue the war on terror and provide significant barriers to the people’s movements for social justice. For the most part the ruling class, even before these debates, had lined up for Clinton and the election results have been decided. However, the national discussion around rape culture has the potential to transform women’s lives and to bring a real awareness to the struggle for women’s liberation in a way I have rarely seen.
I urge everyone to struggle for women’s liberation in the activism they do – whether that’s in the anti-war movement, student organizing, immigrant rights, the Black lives matter movement, the labor movement, the environmental movement, etc. One way that we can do this is by denouncing Trump’s attempt to normalize sexual assault and to make it a priority to support the women we organize with. Sexual assault is not just a women’s issue, but a societal one. At this important juncture, when women speak out about their experiences, we need to listen to them, believe them, support them and recognize the importance of the discussion.
Meredith Aby-Keirstead is a frequent contributor to Fight Back News and a leader in the anti-war movement in Minneapolis, MN.