The Anti-Women Party: How The GOP Became Allies For Abusers
The Republican Party’s defense of abusers goes beyond the president and his rhetoric. It is embedded within their policies.
The same week former Vice President Joe Biden announced a plan to meet with campus leaders across the country about campus sexual assault reform, two Trump White House officials resigned over allegations of assaulting their wives. On Saturday, after defending the characters of both men and after it was revealed members of his administration such as Chief of Staff John Kelly knew of these allegations beforehand, President Trump sent out a disturbing tweet broadly defending men accused of violence against women and sexual assault.
“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” he wrote. “Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?”
Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?
Of course, the irony of a man elected President of the United States with over a dozen women having accused him of sexual abuse claiming “there is no recovery for men accused of assault”—while having formerly said famous men can “do anything” to women—is hard to miss.
And while the dialogue around sexual assault, violence against women and American political parties has been reinvigorated by last week’s events, it’s always existed. Unfortunately, too often, the seemingly bipartisan issue of women’s safety and right to freedom from violence and sexual abuse is anything but bipartisan.
There are too many examples of this. It’s not just the men and candidates the Republican Party chooses to endorse and support, and the records of abuse the Party overlooks, although, for certain, there’s a long record of this. It’s also the legislative decisions of the party’s representatives, from partisan rejections of the Violence Against Women Act to objection to bills expanding funding and access to rape kits.
In the larger conversation around sexual assault, the Republican Party has transformed a most basic women’s right into a political issue when it really shouldn’t be. While exacerbated by recent events, this shift has been a long time in the making, and women and sexual assault survivors suffer the consequences of their experiences being hijacked into a political game.
The Men Republicans Stand Behind
The accusations against Donald Trump, whom the Republican Party nominated and elected, range from harassment, forcible kissing and inappropriate touching to rape. Decades ago, his first wife Ivana once alleged that he had beat and then raped her after he was disappointed by the work of a surgeon that Ivana had recommended to him; in 2015, Trump’s lawyer said marital rape was legally nonexistent.
Last year as the #MeToo movement began to pick up steam, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the more than a dozen women accusing Trump liars without so much as blinking an eye. In response to comparisons of Trump and former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat and another man accused of sexual misconduct, Sanders said that only men who have admitted to their actions should be investigated, sending the terrifying message that the Republican White House exclusively listens to the voices of powerful men, and will not even hear out, let alone believe, survivors.
Just last year, the White House went all-out for Roy Moore, a Republican Senate candidate accused by multiple women of sexual assault and molestation while they were teenagers and he was in his thirties. In addition to these women, handfuls of community members have corroborated the women’s allegations with accounts of how it was widely known in the community that Moore — who was banned from a local mall for harassing teenage girls — preyed on young, underage women.
And while some key Republicans did actively and vocally speak against Moore and call for him to end his campaign, McConnell declined for Moore to suspend his campaign to allow voters to decide, and after a brief pause, the RNC resumed funding Moore’s campaign.
The dialogue around Republican enabling was brought once again to the forefront last week when former White House secretary Rob Porter and former speechwriter David Sorensen became the latest men working for Trump caught with records of abusing women.
After Trump became president in an election that told survivors everywhere that their experiences didn’t matter, that their abusers could not only survive but thrive with impunity, Trump appointed Steve Bannon as his chief adviser. While known for his aggressively racist stances and hand in revitalizing the white nationalist movement in the United States, in 1996, Bannon was also charged with a misdemeanor for domestic violence, battery, and dissuading a witness regarding an incident with a former wife.
Trump formerly nominated Andrew Puzder, the anti-labor chief executive of a line of fast food chains, to be labor secretary; when accusations that he had beat his ex-wife resurfaced, Puzder removed himself.
And before the election, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with battery when he aggressively shoved a female reporter out of Trump’s way.
These cases are often deflected by claims the Trump administration or campaign team just wasn’t aware, but there are two big problems with this. First of all, particularly in the case of Rob Porter, there’s evidence Trump, and his staff knew; for certain, the Republican National Committee and all the top party leaders who endorsed Trump knew of the myriad allegations against him.
Second of all, ignorance isn’t an excuse; any presidential administration’s background checks and vetting should catch the same things journalists do, and they should not ignore. Whether or not they know, they should—no, must—know, and to not know is to be irresponsible and complicit in enabling and empowering men who abuse women. To praise and defend the honor of men who are exposed sends an even worse message about Republican leadership’s stance on sexual violence, and perception of it as so irrelevant and inconsistent that men who beat their wives still deserve best wishes and thank you’s.
Trump on: – Porter: "Hope he has a wonderful career… says he's innocent" – Lewandowski: "How do you know those bruises weren't there before?" – Roy Moore: "He totally denies it" – Roger Ailes: "He helped those women" – Bill O'Reilly: "I don't think Bill did anything wrong
And, of course, it’s not just members of Trump’s administration. The Republican president stood by the likes of Fox News’ former and late CEO Roger Ailes, and former host Bill O’Reilly, both of whom had myriad accusations of sexual harassment and assault against them.
President Trump defended Roy Moore. President Trump defended Bill O'Reilly. President Trump defended Roger Ailes. President Trump defended Rob Porter. President Trump defended himself. President Trump chooses abusers over victims every single time.
Trump has said nothing about accusations against Steve Wynn, a hotel mogul who recently resigned as the RNC’s finance chair after being accused of sexual misconduct. On the other hand, Ronna McDaniel has rejected comparisons between Wynn to Franken and Harvey Weinstein, both aligned with the Democratic Party because “unlike Harvey Weinstein and Al Franken and others, Steve has denied them.” In other words, to Republicans like Trump and the RNC’s leader, the only word that matters is that of the accused man.
But despite Trump’s obsession with defending men and, against all credible research and common decency, his branding of women and survivors as liars and misandristic oppressors, it bears mentioning that the men he stands by are white. Back in the ’90s, Trump bought a full-page ad in the New York Daily News not only calling five men of color accused of raping a white woman guilty, but also demanding the death penalty. The five men were all exonerated by DNA evidence, but as late as 2016, Trump has stood by his stance. Trump also notably rose to fame—and to the top of Republican Party voter polling—in a speech calling Mexican immigrants rapists.
It seems the only time he acknowledges survivors, it is to represent them not as human women worthy of justice and advocacy, but as racist talking points.
Donald Trump may not be representative of every single member of the Republican Party, but he is the Party’s standard-bearer nonetheless, and the one backed and crowned by the RNC, by Mitch McConnell, by Paul Ryan. And time and again he has sent the clear message that he wants the Party to stand with domestic abusers and men accused of assault, that his White House wants the dialogue around sexual assault to shift into a conversation around perceived male victimhood, and the erasure of women’s voices, needs and right to justice.
Accused Men Aren’t The Victims
Last September, education secretary Betsy DeVos announced that she would no longer follow Obama-era guidelines that lowered the standards of evidence for survivors reporting sexual assault, and investigated or took away funding from universities that failed to investigate and address sexual assault reports in a timely manner. In the months before DeVos’ announcement, Candice Jackson, who leads the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, cruelly and falsely claimed most survivors reporting assault were simply drunk or regretted having consensual sex.
“Ninety percent of them fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” she said of sexual assault reports.
That same summer, DeVos met with multiple men’s and accused people’s rights groups.
Like her boss, DeVos has been part of shifting the issue of sexual assault into one of a false narrative of male victimhood, and the conflation of women finally finding the footing to fight back against a system of inequality, violence, and oppression to one of persecution.
It’s important to fight back against this “reverse sexism” myth Republicans are peddling, before discussing anything else. More than two-thirds of sexual assaults go unreported, for myriad reasons. For starters, it’s not uncommon for survivors to suffer from PTSD or other mental health ailments as a result of their experiences, and reporting their experiences could force them to relive their trauma. Many survivors report discomfort with how law enforcement or other officials they report to treat them, and there are far too many cases and anecdotes of sexist stereotyping and slut-shaming used to dismiss, disbelieve and even punish women. On top of this, the majority of survivors are hurt by people they are close to; many survivors don’t report as a result of this as they fear it hurts their credibility.
And most specific to DeVos, with very, very few exceptions, the only evidence survivors are able to present is their own testimony. Unless their assault is recorded or witnessed by parties who are willing to testify in their favor, or unless they are able to go through the often traumatic process of enduring a forensic exam for a rape kit and additionally see the rape kit tested and not backlogged like most are, a survivor’s word is often all they can offer. And with DeVos now demanding higher standards for evidence, survivors find themselves with little option for recourse.
To see men accused of assault and violence against women as the victims is not only profoundly cruel, but also deeply ignorant.
A survey by Glamour in conjunction with the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV), the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Casa Esperanza and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence found 60 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 35 have experienced domestic abuse. One in five women on college campuses experience sexual assault or attempted rape.
Women are suffering, and Republicans are not only erasing this suffering but also exacerbating it.
The Legislation That Hurts Women
Of course, Republican politicians were hurting survivors and women long before Trump and DeVos came onto the scene.
As recent as 2013, 22 Republican senators dissented in a vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. While the VAWA passed, 22 Republicans opposed it for its protections of immigrant women and members of the LGBTQ community, whom the law prohibits discrimination against. At the time, The Atlantic reported that objection also stemmed from perceptions of the VAWA as a “feminist” attack on “family values,” as its existence was conditional on the acknowledgment of patriarchal oppression of women.
I’ll let the despicable, intolerant reasonings behind objecting to VAWA speak for themselves.
Just last summer, a Georgia GOP Congressman said he would only support funding for rape kit collection and processing in non-sanctuary cities. Notably, Rep. Buddy Carter is also the same man who said he would like to “snatch a knot in their ass,” a euphemism for beating, referring to female Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins for their opposition to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Across the country, tens of thousands of rape kits go untested, and it’s impossible to know how many women lack the opportunity to have a rape kit at all. The testing of rape kits in states like Colorado and Wyoming has been costly, but has successfully yielded many new leads and even convictions.
Just a few years ago in 2014, Senate Republicans stalled a $180 billion funding bill that allocated $41 million to help states and local governments process backlogs of rape kits. Under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the bill was held back due to partisan conflict over its environmental protections. In other words, Republican leadership opposed a provision that could have made for justice for an unquantifiable number of women across the country—all to protect the coal industry.
On top of all of this, speaking of the ACA, at the height of Republican efforts to repeal the health care act last year, many pointed out how doing so would affect victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and rape.
Before the ACA, insurance companies charged for preexisting conditions that would equate to additional health needs, placing many low-income people with health ailments in an incredibly difficult, sometimes life-or-death position.
Now, in consideration of the health treatments and services survivors could need — from emergency room visits and mental health treatment to rape kits and other medication, among other things — many feared women and victims of sexual violence could become perceived as liabilities by insurance companies. This could have resulted in sexual abuse and domestic violence becoming “preexisting conditions” and making survivors pay higher premiums. Perhaps punishing women and survivors wasn’t the driving intent behind Republicans’ dogged pushes to repeal the ACA—but it would have been a consequence, nonetheless.
Republicans Care More About Abortion Than Justice For Survivors
When we think of Republicans and anti-woman stances, the most notable aspect of the GOP party platform is its support for governments’ right to force women to give birth.
One of the sole reasons Republicans bring up rape at all—if not to promote nativist, racist narratives like Trump—is to discuss abortion. The mainstream stance among “pro-life” Republicans is that abortion must be illegal with few exceptions including rape, incest, and, sometimes, health circumstances. But there is always ambiguity regarding how women are supposed to demonstrate that they were impregnated by rape, and what standards Republicans would like to see them held to.
In addition to this, abortion is also a key—if not the only—reason Republican leaders and voters support certain candidates.
Moore’s supporters unfailingly responded to accusations of sexual violence against him by pivoting to his adamant opposition to abortion rights in contrast with his opponent Doug Jones’ support for “baby-killing.” Moore’s case was a gut-wrenching demonstration of the right wing’s “love the fetus, hate the child” paradigm around abortion; to conservatives, fetuses — and holding seats in the Senate, for that matter — matter more than born, living young women who are sexually assaulted.
Another glowing example of the intermixing of the issues of violence against women and abortion is the notorious quote of former Missouri GOP Rep. Todd Akin, who claimed that in cases of “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies would naturally fight off pregnancy; thus, pregnancy is always the product of consensual sex, and women should be allowed abortions under no circumstances. Akin’s view is hardly mainstream among his party, but it is the product of conservatism’s passionate, blinding disdain for abortion rights so that nothing else—not even justice for survivors of sexual violence—matters but the denial of women’s bodily autonomy.
Where The Democrats Stand
Around the same time GOP Rep. Carter took a stance against equal access to rape kits and testing, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray began working to push through the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) joined her in her advocacy.
Murray’s bill would require the Government Accountability Office to “survey each state to determine the specific needs and standards of care for sexual assault examinations, create a federal guideline and training program around sexual assault health care … a federal grant to expand training and care offered at hospitals across the country, require colleges to educate students about sexual assault examination services, and build a resource center for hospitals receiving federal funding,” according to Jezebel.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a leading voice on sexual assault and harassment years before #MeToo, recently sponsored and led the charge for a bill to reform sexual harassment reporting procedure in Congress by eliminating a mandated, months-long waiting period that protects perpetrators. Just this weekend, Gillibrand, whom Trump once implied performed sexual acts in exchange for campaign funding, responded to Trump’s suggestion that accused men don’t receive “due process” in a particularly savage tweet calling for Congress to hold a hearing on accusations against Trump: “If he wants due process for the over dozen sexual assault allegations against him, let’s have Congressional hearings tomorrow. I would support that and my colleagues should too.”
The President has shown through words and actions that he doesn't value women. It's not surprising that he doesn't believe survivors or understand the national conversation that is happening.
The lives of survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse are being shattered every day. If he wants due process for the over dozen sexual assault allegations against him, let's have Congressional hearings tomorrow. I would support that and my colleagues should too.
Amy Klobuchar, another Democratic senator, was behind a bill requiring sexual harassment training for members of Congress, and in the House of Representatives, Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier has worked toward similar goals.
For eight years, while campus sexual assault hardly disappeared during the Obama administration, Obama and Biden never ceded an opportunity to raise awareness about survivors’ rights, and the need for resources, supportive guidelines, and preventative measures. The Obama administration will always be remembered for its legacy of advocacy and passion—its revamping of Title IX, its refusal to visit schools that didn’t comply to Title IX guidelines, its support for the VAWA and its emotional appeals for gender equality are a guiding, positive force for Democrats.
Certainly, the party is imperfect. The party has seen its Frankens and Weinsteins and Conyers exposed by #MeToo, and its members were, for the most part, admirably swift in denouncing these men and calling for change. Biden’s own record on sexual assault may be strong, but he notoriously oversaw the 1991 Senate confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and many are rightfully critical of how he handled the questioning of Anita Hill, a woman who claims Thomas sexually harassed her while she worked for Thomas.
These cases are not to be swept under the rug, and everyone regardless of party affiliation must be held accountable. But there is no denying a level partisanship that has unfortunately emerged regarding violence against women and sexual abuse.
Surely most Democrats can agree this partisanship is a problem they want to see change, even if it means they’ll no longer have a talking point over Republicans. Violence against women should not be a political issue; it should be a human rights issue. But in the face of one party’s move to embrace and believe women’s voices and create policy change to defend women’s right against violence, another is consistently overlooking and enabling male perpetrators; dangerously weaving distrust of women into legislation and rhetoric alike; and prioritizing ideology over women’s safety.
Violence against women shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But the only way we’re going to move past this and see through necessary reforms is by first acknowledging that right now, it is.