How Survivors of Sexual Violence Have Responded to Trump’s Presidential Victory
Note: The last names of survivors have not been mentioned for privacy reasons.
Since president-elect Donald Trump’s shocking victory, protests have erupted in cities across the United States, but for survivors of sexual violence Trump’s victory has had deeper, more personal implications. ‘Locker room talk’ left survivors of abuse shaken as Trump nears his term during the election.
“I felt kind of powerless, but I’ve had a range of emotions for these last few days,” said survivor and student activist, Maddy, 21, whose last name she asked not to be shared. “It was infuriating that this person who was making these awful comments was a perpetrator of violence and was not acknowledging his assault.”
Before the election, the public dialogue about the alleged sexually aggressive behavior of the Republican presidential candidate had seemed, in retrospect, only temporary. However, Trump’s unexpected victory has divided the nation.
“I had the strongest PTSD symptoms I’d had in years. I felt nauseated, disoriented, depressed,” said Heather, 32, a survivor of sexual violence who left town once she discovered Trump won the election. Heather lived in a red state. “I saw neighbors with Trump signs and I just felt unsafe. I had to get away, so now I’m in L.A.”
Maya Vizvary, a sexual assault prevention coordinator at American University’s Wellness Center, anticipated a boost in activity on the day after the election.
“The election results have resulted in retriggering for a lot of survivors,” said Vizvary, who offered self-care mechanisms like lavender aromatherapy, coloring activities, hot tea, conversation, coffee and candy to a center full of women on Wednesday, November 9.
Churches and advocacy groups across the nation held support events for survivors. “It was a service of lament, very simple. Very safe,” said Carli, 33, a survivor who attended a potluck dinner at a local church the Wednesday after the election. “There were times of silence, music, and leading, just breathing together and that was such a gift.”
Linda Crockett, the director of education and consultation at Samaritan SafeChurch in Lancaster, Pa. is hosting post-election survivor support groups called Wisdom Circles. “Our greatest danger is to numb out and isolate ourselves,” warned Crockett in a blog post.
“During the election cycle, there was plenty of rhetoric that illustrated what needs to change in our culture to create a society where people feel respected and equal,” said Laura Palumbo, the communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “The reason most women don’t report or disclose abuse is because they fear they won’t be believed.” Experts said that the dismissal and minimizing of reports of abuse by the president-elect only exacerbated fear and emotional pain in women who’ve experienced sexual assault.
“A huge increase in calls were made to crisis hotlines,” said Sejal Singh, policy coordinator for Know Your IX, a survivor- and youth-led organization that empowers students to end sexual violence. “His cavalier attitude about harassment may have serious policy consequences.”
Under the Obama administration, women’s rights advocates have achieved groundbreaking advancement with the Violence against Women Act, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Affordable Care Act, actively driving fair treatment for women in America and around the world.
However, if president-elect Trump follows through with his campaign promises to reduce funding for enforcement and accountability around the policies that advance women’s rights, much of Obama’s progress may be at risk.
Wayne Butler, a retired group home director, recalled the era when former President George H.W. Bush cut many programs that in turn had a negative impact on those who were seeking treatment. “The Republicans were big on punishment, boot camps and things like that, they were opposed to treatment facilities,” said Butler. “With Trump, I’m expecting the same dilution of treatment.”
Though many institutions are obligated to report incidences, advocacy organizations expect to take a more active role in demanding organizations respond appropriately and uphold laws for survivors. Advocates, inspired by the feminist movement of the '60s and '70s, are not deterred by the potential fight ahead.
“There’s hope in the sense that this wasn’t established based on federal government support,” said Vizvary, the sexual assault prevention coordinator. “Obama’s administration helped institutionalize prevention and response efforts, but people won’t stop fighting for what they believe in.”
Advocates recommend self-care for survivors of sexual violence, including activities such as walking, getting lots of fresh air, reading poetry and even finding solace in the quote by Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”â€‹