One in five.
That’s roughly the proportion of U.S. women who have been raped in their lifetimes.*
43.9%. That’s the percentage of U.S. women who have experienced other forms of sexual violence in their lifetimes.*
The numbers feel hard to grasp because of just how extreme they are. Like when someone says that dinosaurs died 65 million years ago or that half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day.
You hear it, you just can’t understand it.
Meanwhile, the statistics seem so disconnected from what you've observed over the years that you assume there must be something wrong with the data. At least that’s what you do if you’re like me: A guy moving through life unaware of just how protective the y-chromosome bubble is.
What you don’t stop to consider is that in addition to trauma, sexual assault victims report feeling humiliation, denial and self-doubt, which means that part of the reason the numbers seem so unreal is because victims of these crimes don’t talk about them when they happen.
And so, for decades, you’ve been surrounded by an epidemic. You just never noticed.
For a year, Donald Trump ran a viable presidential campaign structured around hate. Hate for people of a different religion, nationality or gender. He won the republican nomination and even became the election’s front-runner for a short window, touching 46% in the polls.*
Like one in five or 43.9%, you hear it, you just can’t understand it.
You can’t wrap your head around how many people that means agree with Trump’s message.
Then, a few weeks ago, his campaign caught fire. He embarrassed himself at the debate, was caught on tape bragging about groping women with impunity, and was accused of countless acts of inappropriate sexual contact.
Voter numbers plummeted, republican politicians denounced their own party’s nominee, and major RNC donors urged the organization to pull support for their candidate.
Then something else happened.
My friend posted something on Facebook about the time she was sexually assaulted.
Then another friend shared her own experience in a group e-mail.
Then several more told their story at a bar.
Memories of unwanted sexual aggression streamed forth through the most public of channels from people who felt compelled to share something long kept secret.
Writer Kelly Oxford tweeted a call for women to share the stories of their “first assaults.” In came the avalanche of responses, women speaking about the times they were molested, raped, groped, stalked. The times that they were too afraid to say anything, or worse, the times they told authority figures who refused to believe them. Over 14 hours, Oxford said she received a million stories.
This is what 43.9% looks like.
What Donald Trump now stands accused of doing is awful, but it shouldn’t be shocking. These actions are the natural extension of ideas he has spent a lifetime expressing. This is a man who once tweeted, “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
A significant portion of voters have spent the last year supporting someone who has always been the type of person who would do something like this. And that Trump resonated with so much of our population is something that we need to take notice of. Just like we need to take notice of how many women are being sexually assaulted in this country. Both numbers speak to an endemic hostility in our society that we’ve overlooked for too long. And the roughly ten percent of people who claim they stopped supporting Trump when these allegations came forward are part of the problem too. Because if their change of heart is sincere it means they didn’t realize that people who think the way Trump thinks act the way he’s accused of acting. And if you can’t connect those dots then how can you ever expect to change the sexual assault equation?
If this is indeed an epidemic, then we need to be clear that Trump is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is all the people who condone and justify sexually inappropriate language and actions. But it is also the people who don’t do anything about it.
That makes this time an important one. Trump’s success is spotlighting that first group and it is educating the second one which gives us the potential to create something positive from the last 12 months. We can make this moment the wakeup call we clearly need.
Because when you finally realize how bad things have gotten, that’s when change happens.
*Numbers cited in this story come from here: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm and here: http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf And here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/08/01/in-the-first-major-poll-after-both-conventions-trumps-bump-has-vanished/