Last week, audio of Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault and grabbing women “by the p----” was released by the Washington Post and reverberated across the Internet. Headlines by various news organizations quoted the phrase and vilified Trump’s particularly graphic language. Republican lawmakers who previously backed Trump began rescinding their support across multiple platforms.
During the second presidential debate on Sunday evening, moderator Anderson Cooper was quick to label Trump’s words for exactly what they implied:
“You bragged that you sexually assaulted women,” Cooper said. “Do you understand that?”
Cooper was right. Trump’s commentary was not shocking because of his use of graphic language and lewd imagery — it was the second half of his quote that stirred something even more deeply disturbing.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said. “You can do anything.”
Anything. Let’s take a minute to talk about what “anything” means. Let’s talk about the assumption that celebrity status entitles men to grope and kiss women without their consent. Let’s talk about consent.
When Trump was recorded making these comments in 2005, the nation hadn’t yet defined “consent.” The controversial “one in five women in college have experienced sexual assault” statistic hadn’t yet been scrutinized, reexamined and revalidated until it was accepted as truth. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights hadn’t yet released an 18-page call to action reminding colleges to address and prevent sexual assault on campuses in compliance with Title IX. Brock Turner hadn’t yet been sentenced to a mere six months (and served only three) after being convicted of raping a woman behind a dumpster at Stanford.
Today, the Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”
Any man stating that his fame condones the groping and kissing of women without their consent is horrific, and it’s especially horrific when that particular man is running for president. This is coupled with the fact that the Republican party’s platform calls for removing the responsibility of colleges to investigate sexual assault, and that Trump’s platform currently does not include a plan to address campus sexual assault. But this is about more than harmful political rhetoric, or the condemning of Trump’s candidacy alone, or even your position on the election at large.
At its core, Trump’s commentary is a gross perpetuation of rape culture.
As leaders of the Women’s Resource Agency; as an affiliate organization of Voices Against Violence, TransAction Texas, the Gender and Sexuality Center and the Feminist Action Project; and as advocates for all female-identifying UT students and college students at large, we would like to clarify that one’s proclaimed status — be it social, socioeconomic, star athlete or celebrity — never gives consent. WRA and our affiliate organizations exist to provide resources, knowledge, safe spaces and a voice for victims in a world where sexual violence is increasingly normalized. There is absolutely nothing that gives any human being the right to do “anything” to a woman and her body without enthusiastic verbal consent.
As participants in a growing conversation about sexual consent on college campuses, and in the wake of an epidemic of campus sexual assault, we have an obligation to talk about consent because it applies to all of us.
Those who defend this rhetoric of entitlement might argue that it’s nothing new or shocking. And it might not be. But in other, more familiar words, “boys will be boys.” Rape culture is the normalization of the “boys will be boys” narrative. It is accepting “locker-room talk” as an excuse. It is the fact that Trump’s rhetoric pulls at a deep fear that virtually all college women confront — that our bodies are at risk simply by existing. Finally, it is the acceptance of silence as implicit consent. Silence is not consent. Consent is consent.
L’Amie is a journalism senior from Austin. She is the vice president of Women’s Resource Agency.