The minute I heard Donald Trump deny, during his second debate with Hillary Clinton, that he had ever sexually molested women — despite his salacious and exuberant remarks to Billy Bush, which the entire nation had heard by that point — I knew the women he had assaulted would start coming out of the woodwork.
It’s one thing to be physically assaulted by a man of inarguable power; it’s quite another to hear him defiantly deny the reality of that crime in front of millions of television viewers.
As these eerily similar stories poured in, my brain started playing an interminable loop of my own experiences, in almost hallucinatory detail.
Like huge numbers of women across the U.S., I was also sexually assaulted when I was a young woman — three times, in fact, all more than three decades ago.
But in those days, we didn’t have a name for what happened to us. Anything short of rape was likely brushed aside as some sort of moral failing of the victim, or some momentary lapse in our awareness of the nonverbal messages we were sending to the men in our sphere.
I was most certainly not a beauty queen, and I was not very wise to the ways of the world. Perhaps that made me vulnerable. At the time, it never occurred to me to tell anyone what had happened, let alone report it to my boss or other authorities.
But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
In fact, it was only many, many years later, when conversations about the subject had become much more common and supervisors in every workplace were trained about sexual harassment and their reporting responsibilities, that I even realized I had been a victim of sexual assault.
My “encounters” were very similar to the ones described by several of Trump’s accusers. They were blitz attacks, without any warning signs: no overly friendly overtures, no sideways glances preceded the totally unexpected behavior.
Two of my abusers were work colleagues of sorts in two very dissimilar situations, men I had had only limited interaction with but who, by virtue of their age or position, had an implicit advantage over me.
I’m fairly certain that, afterward, they were more ashamed about what had happened than I was. They even apologized to me, one tearfully, some days later. I was largely bewildered by what had happened, and perhaps a little angry that they had taken advantage of me. (That’s how we phrased it back then.) I did not fear that it would happen again.
These men were not sexual predators. Trump is.
Trump boasts that his position, his money, his fame privilege him to kiss or grope whomever he chooses. He obviously delights in shoving women into corners and having his way with them (there’s another of those quaint euphemisms from the past). And he definitely does not respect women, despite his protests to the contrary.
I never before felt the need to speak out about my ordeals. I was not physically injured, and I recovered emotionally. They did not unduly darken my soul. But that in no way diminishes the life-altering experiences of other women who were similarly assaulted.
Sadly, I expect we’ll hear from more women who had similar encounters with Trump and who now, because others have come forward, dare to confront him and the fury he will unleash on them.
Amid the cacophony of this presidential campaign, I’m proud of the women who have been emboldened to share their stories and to confirm that Trump really is the man he, himself, claims to be.
Sallie Showalter, a communications consultant lives in Georgetown. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.