A long list of women came forward Wednesday to accuse Donald Trump of sexual assault. Most or all of them, from the reports I’ve read, never told the police about it. I believe them.
Trump has denied the accusations. His campaign advisor AJ Delgado told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that “any reasonable woman” would have come forward immediately after being sexually assaulted by the billionaire.
Trump’s lawyers repeated a version of that claim in a letter to the New York Times.
I was raped in college. Before writing that sentence, I’ve never discussed my rape publicly. My partner knows. So does a small circle of friends and family. But I’ve never publicly identified myself as a victim or survivor. And like most people who’ve lived through a sexual assault, I’ve never told a police officer.
I’m going to do my best to explain why, in the hope that it will help readers understand why other people who’ve been assaulted might wait years to come forward — or never do.
Here’s what you should know first: Every person’s experience of trauma is unique. I would never pretend to speak for anyone other than myself, or to understand what they have been through. I hope that I can help people who doubt survivors build some empathy for those who do come forward, but you shouldn’t take my experience as a stand-in for anyone else’s.
And I imagine it’s much easier for me to come forward in this way than it is for any of Trump’s accusers: I’m a man, I’m not naming my rapist, and I don’t have to worry about sexist slut-shaming or threats. (I actually have the opposite worry, that telling a story about a rape of a man by a woman will attract the unwanted support of “men’s rights” wackos.)
But even further: My rapist is not a celebrity, or a billionaire. She’s doesn’t have power over my career. I don’t have to worry about her showing up at my door to beat me up.
And still, I’ve never reported her.
Assuming Delgado holds men to the same standard as she holds Trump’s accusers, I guess that makes me an especially unreasonable person.
But let me try to explain why.
It took me months to process what had happened.
In the first few months after I was raped, my brain went numb. I wish I knew a less cliched way to say it, but that’s the truth of how it felt. I didn’t decide then not to report my rape, I just wasn’t high-functioning enough to have the thought.
I don’t have a lot of clear memories from that period. I spent a lot of time in bed, skipped most of my classes, and spent less time with my friends. When I did go out, my mood ranged from gloom to a kind of manic giddiness.
I don’t think I knew why I was so miserable. Friends asked what was going on, and I remember answering that I was still pining over an old breakup, or had an argument with a family member, or was stressed about school and the cold winter weather. I don’t remember telling any of them the truth, possibly because I hadn’t acknowledged it to myself.
At one point, my rapist wrote me an apology email and I replied, “Just want you to know I got this. It can’t have been easy to write. We will talk but now is hard.”
Eventually, the fugue cracked. I was on the verge of flunking out of college. My younger sister, the most perceptive person I know, wormed the story out of me.
“She’s a rapist,” she told me in a series of Facebook messages while I defended my rapist, “and you need to see a counselor.”
It was a kind of revelation.
Just finding treatment for trauma is a struggle. The idea of dealing with the cops in the middle of that is terrifying.
I visited one of the two full-time staff my school then employed to counsel victims of rape and sexual assault.
She patiently listened and took notes while I told her why I was in her office, asking a few questions along the way. Then she explained that because I’d previously used up the 10 free staff psychologist visits then allotted to undergraduates, I would have to pay for treatment. I couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket, and didn’t want my family to know what had happened, so I declined. She also offered me a spot in an all-female group-therapy session at the campus women’s center. I didn’t like the idea of being the one man to invade that space, so again I declined.
Then she asked if I wanted to report my rapist to the police. It was the first time the idea had occurred to me, and I have a clear memory of raw, physical panic as I sat in her office.
I imagined the fallout: Friends and acquaintances taking sides. Judgment. Becoming known as that person who got raped. I imagined tripping over my already muddy memories of that evening in a police interview, getting something wrong, the accusation of a false report. What if, I wondered, I’d blown the night all out of proportion?
Plus, my rapist and I had been close. I liked her, and thought of her as basically good person. I didn’t want to see her in handcuffs. The idea seemed absurd. It still does.
I left the counselor’s office that day with a brochure and a promise to keep in touch. A week or so later, she had left her job in the midst of an unrelated scandal around the college’s handling of rape cases. No one ever followed up with me, and I never told another authority.
The more I put myself together after the original trauma, the less I want to dredge all that pain and confusion up again.
In the years since another person climbed on top of me and had sex with me after I said no, I’ve learned to deal with the symptoms of trauma.
And my life is good now. I managed to convince the right faculty to give me a chance to recover from the long list of Fs on my transcript — a chance I probably didn’t deserve — and graduated in what I’m sure was the bottom 10% of my class. Luck, privilege, some perseverance, and the overwhelming kindness of other people have afforded me a career and a private life that make me happy.
The idea of spoiling all that with a drawn-out legal battle based on nothing but my word feels ridiculous.
People don’t want to believe it.
As I’ve told a small number of close friends about what happened, the overwhelming majority of them have been supportive. They listen or share their own experiences of assault. (I’ll never get over my shock at how many women and men live with sexual trauma.)
But the handful of times I’ve told people who are close with both me and my rapist, it’s felt like a mistake. One laughed it off, and told me I shouldn’t have put myself in a vulnerable position with my rapist in the first place. Another interrogated me, rooting around for inconsistencies in my memories of that night. She found them, and I spent weeks wrapped up in self-doubt and anger. I wondered if I was crazy, and what was wrong with me that I couldn’t recall precise details of my rape anymore. I never told any more of our shared friends after that.
I understand why those people reacted that way. It’s hard to imagine that a person you care about or admire has hurt another person, especially when you didn’t see it happen. It’s easier to minimise their story, or find a reason not to accept it.
But think about what that means. I shared a story of an assault in possibly the friendliest environment possible: on a liberal college campus, as a man, and talking to my closest friends. And people didn’t believe me.
And that’s in the end why I believe survivors. I can’t imagine why a woman would publicly accuse a famous, powerful, rich man of assault, unless it were true.
Talking to people about your assault is difficult, painful, and exhausting. There’s only the slim upside of a shot at whatever the court decides is justice, and a mountain of downside in the form of anger, disbelief, and recriminations.
Why would any reasonable person put themselves through that, unless they were telling the truth?
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