Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on Oct. 5, 2016, in Reno, Nevada.
Editor’s Note: This post contains language and details of sexual violence.
When I was 17 years old, I was sexually assaulted by a boy I was casually dating.
It happened in my father’s living room on a terrible moss green-colored couch with massive cushions that refused to stay in place. The boy and I were cuddling under a pale white blanket, watching a movie I’ve long forgotten the name of. But what I can’t ever forget is how he slowly smoothed his hand down my stomach, inching his fingers under my waistband.
I immediately froze. Then, I pushed his hand away. And again. And again.
Each time his fingers returned to my waistband, the force grew stronger and stronger. Eventually, it was physical strength I simply could not compete with.
My assault began when this boy "grabbed me by the pussy."
Those are the exact words used by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in a 2005 recording released by the Washington Post on Friday. In the tape, Trump describes how his power as a famous, rich man gives him the ability to pursue any woman he pleases. He describes how he sometimes just starts kissing a woman and "doesn’t even wait" for her to say it’s OK. He says his star power even allows him to do it.
It isn’t up for debate: What Trump describes is sexual assault.
In the United States, a person is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Most survivors of sexual assault are women; 1 woman out of every 6 is the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
To a sexual assault survivor like me, Trump’s words are not the harmless "locker room banter" he claims they are in a statement he released immediately after the tape went public. They are words that reach into the deepest parts of me, plucking out trauma that gets replayed over and over with each new article and retweet. They are reflective of a culture of men that sees women as available to fulfill their desires, even without their consent.
Trump later expanded on his written statement, addressing the recording in a video released by his campaign late Friday night. Even in that video, I had to pause after becoming nauseated by his words and tone.
In the tape from 2005, my stomach churned because I was forced to replay what happened to me on that terrible couch seven years ago. In his apology, it was from a complete lack of sincerity that further helped convince me that Trump doesn’t see women like me — or women at all — as human.
In the video, he says that the tape’s release is "nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we are facing today." He is wrong. Sexual assault — and the way people like Trump talk about it so casually — is an alarming issue we all need to face.
Since the 2005 recording surfaced, instances of Trump allegedly "grabbing" women have come to light as well, including his alleged interactions with a woman named Jill Harth, who says she once vomited as a self-defense mechanism to rebuke Trump’s advances. Now, his words have become more than just "banter" — they have become possibly true.
I am not alone in speaking out about my own assault to challenge Trump’s sickening views of women. As Friday night went on, women on Twitter rejected the all-too-common forced silence of sexual assault survivors by sharing their stories. Many of them detailed how men had "grabbed them by the pussy" during instances of sexual assault or rape.
Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren’t just stats. I’ll go first:
Old man on city bus grabs my "pussy" and smiles at me, I’m 12.
— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) October 7, 2016
I was #grabbedbythepussy in 8th grade at the water park and it was one of the grossest, most violating things that has ever happened to me
— ellimaC (@cumeel) October 8, 2016
@kellyoxford 8 yrs old, my cousin cornered me in a bedroom & "grabbed my pussy." I kicked him & tried to tell my aunt, she called me a liar.
— EricaJoy (@EricaJoy) October 8, 2016
I have literally been #grabbedbythepussy without my consent on a dark street and it was the scariest moment of my life.
— Jen Hau (@jen_hau) October 8, 2016
Trump’s words shed light on a culture that makes women like us hold keys like daggers between trembling fingers on late walks home. It’s a culture built to the sound of pepper spray jingling in our purses against quarters and pennies. A culture where "assault" is not a seven-letter word, but a constant threat over our days.
I first heard the Trump recording at work, a place where triggering trauma is anything but convenient. I finished out my day of meetings and writing and emails all while constantly replaying the events of seven years ago in my head. The couch. His hands reaching, pushing. My chest on fire. My ears ringing, head pounding. The bruises and bleeding.
The mass outrage at Trump’s comments is honestly perplexing for survivors who are used to being blamed and shamed for their assault.
When my last meeting of the day ended, I stayed behind in the room to have a moment alone. Almost immediately, audible weeps started pouring from me. My chest heaved and stung. My eyeliner ran in coal-colored rivers down my cheeks. I cried myself sick, until my puffy eyes were rimmed with tears that refused to fall. I imagine many survivors did the same.
The mass outrage at Trump’s comments is honestly perplexing for survivors who are used to being blamed and shamed for their assault. But even now, as the majority of people see his comments as obscene, repulsive and inexcusable, survivors face a huge problem. A man who has said he would do as our abusers did — touch us without our consent — is one month away from possibly leading our country.
Donald Trump isn’t just frightening as a presidential candidate who has been consistently described as sexist, racist, xenophobic and abusive with his words. He’s frightening as a man who will call a woman "it" when she is not around to hear. He’s frightening as a man who will pop Tic-Tacs in preparation to possibly force himself on a woman. He’s terrifying as a man who will casually say he could grab any woman "by the pussy" whenever he desires.
Seven years ago on that terrible moss green-colored couch, a boy tried to use his power to take my voice away. But today, as Trump says his power allows him to do the same to other women, I refuse to stay silent.
If you have experienced sexual assault, you can call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access 24-7 help online by visiting hotline.rainn.org.