Last Tuesday, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, issued a statement condemning Donald Trump’s claim that a recorded conversation he had with Billy Bush on Access Hollywood was just “locker room talk.” In the statement, RAINN said the weekend after the tapes were released, the National Sexual Assault Hotline had 33 percent more online sessions than it had the previous weekend.
“Important memories, including traumatic ones, can be triggered by many different cues that have become associated with those memories,” Psychology Prof. Bethany Teachman said in an email statement.
The day after the tapes were released, One in Four, an all-male group at the University that aims to start conversations about how men can prevent sexual assault, released a statement of their own.
“Although One in Four is not an explicitly political organization, we cannot sit idly by in wake of Donald Trump’s most recent comments,” the statement reads. “We condemn his words as outright and blatant sexism.”
Since then, several women, including a reporter, a former beauty pageant contestant and a woman who once sat next to Trump on a plane, have said Trump assaulted them.
Sarah Cook, a University alumna and associate dean in Georgia State University’s psychology department, gave a presentation about rape on campus as part of the University’s Power, Violence and Inequality series.
“Despite critics who contend it is easy to allege rape or other forms of sexual assault, it is not,” Cook said in an email statement. “As a woman who experienced a near fatal assault during graduate school here at U.Va., I have personal experience. I can say that when I share my story, many women express thanks and new courage to disclose because they see a woman who is not eternally damaged — as many believe happens to women who experience sexual assault.”
Trump has strongly denied the allegations — saying of one accuser, “She would not be my first choice.” However, as Cook discussed throughout her presentation, most measures of sexual assault see it as an act of aggression, not of attraction.
“Donald Trump's idea of locker room talk, if it was locker room talk, is a perfect example of what psychologists term hyper masculinity,” Cook said. “As a construct that we measure, it is a consistent predictor of sexually aggressive behavior.”
Cook also discussed the idea that some sexually aggressive behaviors may still fall within certain norms, or scripts, that often fall along gender roles, and are still somewhat accepted in society. These may include using verbal pressure until someone “caves,” or assuming that being drunk means that someone wants sexual intercourse. She also mentioned that certain views of consent see it as a contract. Once given, it can’t be easily rescinded.
Hearing about sexual assault can trigger negative emotions, flashbacks and reactions in survivors, but Teachman, Cook and One in Four all expressed hope that something beneficial may still come out of the current national conversation.
“There is good research evidence that avoidance of topics has serious negative effects,” Teachman said. “Thus, avoidance is not the answer — rather, it is important that discussions of sexual assault and how our society needs to do so much more to prevent assault needs to happen in ways that are respectful, supportive and not demeaning. In turn, we need to provide strong supports for persons who choose to share their experiences of prior sexual assault, and not communicate that these stories need to be hidden or silenced.”