Civil Rights

Trump’s rape blame game

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Donald Trump was interviewed by Matt Lauer on NBC in a televised forum on Wednesday night and was questioned about the veracity of a tweet from 2013. The tweet stated, “26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” Trump stood by his prior tweet and replied, “I think that that’s absolutely correct.”

Yet, Trump’s conclusion that having women and men occupying the same space inevitably leads to rape is factually wrong, as well as perpetuates dangerous myths around sexual violence. Donald Trump codified his misinformed tweet into a televised statement, which allows him to broadcast misinformation from far too big a platform.

The fact is that most sexual violence goes unreported and conviction rates are extremely low, even in the civilian population. However, there are added complexities in the military for reporting sexual violence, as it is an internal investigation and has direct career implications for all parties involved. So I agree with Trump: prosecution rates for sexual violence in the military are abhorrently low.

The low reporting and conviction rates of sexual violence are complicated. This is partially due to the revictimization of the reporting and judicial process. From an advocate’s perspective, it is always the decision of the victim to report without coercion. Yet, researchers are working diligently to understand what pathways will lead to higher reporting and conviction rates. This research could vastly improve the outcomes and incidences of sexual violence. This is because research indicates that most perpetrators of sexual violence are serial rapists, therefore any incremental uptick in conviction rates could significantly reduce the incidence of sexual violence.

The main point Trump states that I’d like to deconstruct is the notion that putting women in military service, alongside a majority male population inevitably leads to rape. This argument relies upon the notion that men can’t “help”, but to rape. That somehow the stimulation of a female presence supersedes a man’s ability to control himself not to rape. This is a logical fallacy that negates the responsibility for rape from men and hides the fact of male-on-male sexual violence or female-perpetrated sexual violence. If I were a man, I’d find the insinuation that I can’t help but to rape people really insulting.

People use these types of faulty logic models all the time. “The leftover birthday cake was just sitting there… I had to eat it!” Yet, with the serious nature of sexual violence there should be more nuanced parameters to how we effectively tackle and discuss it as a phenomenon. This is so that we may actually improve the discourse and outcomes for all sexual violence survivors.

Additionally, Trump negates the fact that men are sexually assaulted, too. And men can sexually assault men and women can sexually assault women or other men as well. The resounding call that “the only responsible party for rape is rapists” is true and non-gendered. We can’t deny the lived experience of sexual violence survivors by omitting the gender of their perpetrator or the gender dynamics of the offense.

In April of 2016 I participated in event to dispel sexual assault myths in the heart of the Pentagon’s courtyard. A few military members provided moving speeches about their experience of sexual violence while serving our country. Their testimonials included male and female perpetrators and the difficulties of navigating the military hierarchy, while coping with their traumatic experience.

My role at the time was at a sexual and domestic violence agency in Arlington, Va. We set up a table and interactive exhibit to build military members’ consciousness around sexual violence myths. There was a middle aged military officer there that approached our table. He was asked about a sexual violence myth and said he didn’t think a husband could rape his wife. I was initially shocked when he said this. Then criticized my shock and thought to myself “What did these geniuses expect when they put sexual violence advocacy and the military together?” Yet, the myth that a husband can’t rape his wife needs to be dispelled at every turn and here I was with a direct opportunity to talk about consent with a high-ranking military official.

Now isn’t the time to judge others for buying into sexual violence myths, but to enlighten them to the complexities of the issue and engage in civil discourse. Mr. Trump, I look forward to you kindly recanting your previous statements. Or can you not “help” yourself?

Melanie Carlson spent almost five years working in shelter based setting with clients experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence and/or homelessness. Carlson is currently a first-year doctoral student studying gender-based violence.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Rape rape culture

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