Political News

Trump's lewd remarks concern campuses fighting sex assault

Posted October 12

In this April 8, 2016, photo provided by Breakthrough, Columbia University graduate student Savannah Badalich leads a Breakthrough Campus Catalyst Training with student activists at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. When news broke that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, had bragged of groping women, and then trivialized it as "locker room talk," it felt to some students like a repudiation of their efforts. (Jacob Greenfield/Breakthrough via AP)

— At Connecticut College, as at a growing number of campuses nationwide, students are encouraged to speak up if they hear remarks celebrating or condoning sexual aggression against women. In one training scenario, male students ask a peer if he really means it when he boasts of such conduct.

So when news broke that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, had bragged of groping women and then trivialized it as "locker room talk," it felt to some students like a repudiation of their efforts.

"It's shocking that someone of that status thinks that that's OK," said Greg Liautaud, a senior who works with the college's sexual assault prevention office. "It does make the work harder, because our goal here is to shift culture."

Trump's caught-on-tape remarks about kissing women and grabbing their genitals are resonating deeply on campuses across the U.S. where sexual assault has been a long-standing problem. Many worried the comments, coupled with an apology that diminished their severity, could hinder efforts to educate youth when society too often brushes off abusive behavior as "boys being boys" or puts the blame on the victim.

At Connecticut College, the director of sexual violence prevention said the presidential contender's remarks likely would become fodder for small group discussions, as happened after a videotape surfaced of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice hitting his fiancee.

"I hope that it doesn't set us back," Darcie Folsom said. "I hope it pushes us forward everywhere to know more work needs to be done."

The federal government, citing estimates that 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college, has stepped up pressure on higher education institutions to improve their response to allegations of assault. More than 200 schools are under sexual violence investigations by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights ; noncompliance could lead to loss of federal funding.

Other institutions have faced lawsuits by women claiming officials were indifferent or hostile when complaints were lodged. The University of Connecticut, for example, settled for $1.3 million with five students, including one who alleged a campus police officer told her "women have to just stop spreading their legs like peanut butter" or rape will keep happening.

Stanford University professor Michelle Dauber said Trump's comments worsen the problem by serving to minimize sexual assault. Dauber is pushing a recall campaign of the judge who sentenced former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a woman outside a fraternity house — a penalty widely criticized as too lenient. Turner was released last month after serving half that time.

"The rage you are seeing from women is not solely or even principally directed at Trump," Dauber said. "It is at the institutions and leaders who are failing to take action and hold him accountable. ... Women are sick and tired. Enough is enough."

Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus, hopes that the outrage turns into a "teachable moment" that bolsters on-campus efforts to combat assault and support survivors. "Talking about it as no big deal can normalize the behavior. We have to create a culture where victims and survivors are comfortable coming forward, and on a lot of campuses that hasn't happened."

That issue resonates deeply with Savannah Badalich. She's a graduate student at Columbia University in New York, and works part time with other colleges to increase awareness about sexual assault. At those sessions, she shares her personal story about being sexually assaulted during her sophomore year at UCLA and being too timid to report the incident.

"If the potential president of the U.S. is saying this is OK, what's to say that sexual violence is going to be taken seriously and that survivors are going to be treated with any respect?" she said.

Whitney Ralston, a University of Richmond junior who says she was raped, physically abused and stalked by a classmate, has been heartened by the strong negative reaction to Trump's comments. "This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and you can't just keep brushing it off as boys will be boys."

Ralston's alleged attacker accepted responsibility for violating the university's sexual misconduct policy, was ordered to stay away from her and told that further violations would result in suspension or expulsion. Ralston has filed a complaint with the DOE accusing the university of mishandling the case. Federal investigators are already looking into two other cases at the school for possible violations of Title IX, a broad statute that prohibits gender discrimination as well as sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is also under federal investigation for its alleged mishandling of sexual assaults on campus, and the Trump furor reverberated across the campus this week, as students and faculty prepared to mark Relationship Violence Awareness Month. A complaint filed in August with the DOE accuses school officials of discouraging one sex assault victim from going to the police and said school investigators failed to get photographs documenting her injuries.

Shira Malka Devorah, a 20-year-old senior who works at the UMBC Women's Center, has refrained from sharing Trump's comments on social media because she didn't want to upset assault survivors. But she was horrified by the candidate's comments, and even more so his justification that they were merely locker room banter.

"Saying that it's OK to talk about things like this with your buddies and joke about hurting women and controlling women's bodies, it's reinforcing the notion that you have power over women ... that they're not human beings," Devorah said.

At Connecticut College, which has about 1,900 students, efforts have grown in recent years to fight sexual assault. Freshmen attend a mandatory orientation session on preventing sexual violence, speakers address the topic at panels for prospective students, and some 30 student volunteers promote a program that encourages students to see it as a collective responsibility to stop sexual assault. One of the overall aims is to teach people how and when to intervene through videos, role-playing and other exercises.

Trump's remarks were on the minds of many students this week as guides led small groups on tours around the picturesque campus on the Thames River.

"It undermines the progress that we've made," said junior Maggie Corey. "I think what he said only perpetuates the rape culture."


Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman in Baltimore, Alanna Durkin Richer in Richmond, Virginia, and Paul Elias in San Francisco contributed to this report. Crary reported from New York.


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  • RB Redmond Oct 12, 5:59 p.m.
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    1. Rubbish,
    2. In the case you're citing, Hillary Clinton was a COURT APPOINTED attorney which means she had NO CHOICE but to take the case AND do a good job or risk losing her law license.
    It's amazing to me the number of Americans who know so little about the US justice system.
    And it further amazes me the number of people who only view what's shared on obvious biased websites and cite them as gospel when it's biased.

  • RB Redmond Oct 12, 5:57 p.m.
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    Take a good look around the US. There ARE more than two political parties here.
    Just because we're disgusted by Trump's attitude and words towards women and minorities in general, doesn't mean we support Obama or Hillary.
    Plus, when have Obama or Hillary ever said anything as disgusting as what Trump has said about women or minorities?

  • RB Redmond Oct 12, 5:52 p.m.
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    No doubt about it, Trump is no gentleman. Anyone considering voting for him should simply ask themselves one question:
    Would they want a cad like that to marry their daughter/granddaughter?
    If the answer is no, why consider him for the highest office in the land?
    If the answer is yes, then you don't think much of your women folk, and I feel sorry for them.

  • Susan Eaton Oct 12, 2:30 p.m.
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    honest question - are you suggesting that a defense lawyer should make a judgement as to the guilt or innocence of a client, declining all cases where they consider the person to be guilty regardless of financial status? If so, by this logic, then if someone were to come forward with a solid case and accuse Trump of sexual assault, defense lawyers should then defer to defend him as opposed to threaten women in to silence? And judges like in the Stanford case should send these guilty men to jail for a maximum sentences instead of being concerned about the impact or remorse of the perpetrator?

  • Susan Eaton Oct 12, 2:19 p.m.
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    anyone else laugh at someone supporting Trump having "not vote for a liar" in a post? Much less attempt to "scold" around the topic of ethics? Never mind the failure on the attempt to put down both women and ethnic minorities with the "tribe" comment.

  • Lance Boyle Oct 12, 2:01 p.m.
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    I see the solution and trust me it is coming. Trust me on this and it is ironic and beautiful. The fix to GOP lusting and abuse of women is that women should wear the same thing as Muslim women - The Burka. They will soon require it to remove temptation from their fellow GOP alpha males. Any woman that chooses and trust me she has a choice not not burka up, will be left to the mercy of all who wish to grope. Trust me.

  • Howard Roark Oct 12, 1:17 p.m.
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    Won't matter. He's too far gone in his own little world.

  • Sheri Bachmeier Oct 12, 12:36 p.m.
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    Barney, you need to actually do some research on your accusations. http://www.snopes.com/hillary-clinton-freed-child-rapist-laughed-about-it/
    read it...You need to learn respect for women. You are part of the problem.

  • Barney Gravel Oct 12, 11:51 a.m.
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    BTW the CLINTON rapes where Mrs. Clinton enabled the personal destruction of victims in not a conspiracy. But rather a fine example of Mrs. Clinton's actions. She got her start destroying a 12 yo girl in Arkansas, check that fact out, it is not a conspiracy but is underneath Mrs. Clinton's rug. I have to laugh at all these women, who are going to vote for Hillary who actually hates women as evidenced by her actions.

  • Howard Roark Oct 12, 11:36 a.m.
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    The radical right has become quite absorbed in conspiracies as of late, haven't they?

    Not saying that Clinton is a model politician, but the closer she comes to the WH, the louder they whine and stomp their feet.