This past Friday, American President Donald Trump recognized April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. This initiative has been established since 2001, but only received presidential recognition as of 2009 under President Obama. Trump continued this precedent by issuing a statement reminding Americans that, “women, children, and men have inherent dignity that should never be violated.” Trump urged Americans to take action, stating “this can be done by engaging young people to step in and provide peer leadership against condoning violence, and by mobilizing men and boys as allies in preventing sexual and relationship violence.” This announcement made headlines and sparked controversy, with Americans questioning if these sentiments would also apply to rich, famous and powerful men, citing Trump’s contentious history.
In October, Trump’s campaign faltered after a controversial audio clip from 2005 was released, where Trump can be heard boasting about non-consensual sexual activity with women. “When you are a star, they let you do it,” he said in the recording. “You can do anything, grab ’em by the p***y.” The audio clip went viral, prompting dozens of women to come forward, accusing Trump of sexual assault over the span of 30 years. Over the past year alone, over 15 women have accused President Trump of sexual assault. During his campaign, he dismissed the allegations and insisted the victims were ‘sick’ and hungry for fame. He explained the reason he could not have assaulted them was that they were “too unattractive” for him to consider sexually.
Twitter erupted in outrage with Trump’s recognition of this sensitive and important awareness initiative. Some pointed to a tweet from 2013, where Trump insinuated rape was an inevitable element of gender relations, saying “with 26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military [there was] only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
In his announcement he cited the Justice Department, stating there are “more than 300,000 instances of rape or other sexual assault that afflict our neighbours and loved ones every year.” This is a true and staggering statistic, highlighting the problem of sexual violence in America. However, by referring to victims of sexual assault as ‘neighbours and loved ones,’ Trump makes the assumption that he is not speaking to victims directly. This language subtly undermines victims as the focal point of the conversation.
Trump has also issued an executive order, which instructs Attorney General Jeff Session to come up with a strategy to reduce crime. Although this does include sexual violence, there is a much higher emphasis placed on illegal immigration and drugs. This illustrates the Trump administration’s true priorities. Overall, the announcement was simply a part of traditional presidency pleasantries. However, the controversy and outrage highlighted that Trump’s problematic history with sexual violence cannot be chalked up to just ‘locker room talk.’