A 2005 audio-taped conversation surfaced recently between Donald Trump and news caster Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood,” a TV show. Trump described kissing women without their consent and grabbing their genitals. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful (women). I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” Donald Trump also spoke of women in a crude and demeaning manner over a 17-year period with Howard Stern in a series of audio-taped segments. By now, most Americans have either read about these statements or listened to the tapes of Trump’s own words. His words provide a case study to examine the inner mind of an abuser. If we examine Trump’s words and beliefs, we can better understand all abusers.
Let’s be clear that Donald Trump, by his own words, has sexually assaulted women. His behavior is not boys’ play. It is illegal behavior. Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. It leaves people feeling violated and oftentimes traumatized. It’s not OK to touch without consent.
So why would Trump engage in sexually abusive behaviors? The answer lies within his beliefs. We know that behavior is a result of beliefs. If we examine an abuser’s beliefs, we can expect their behavior to align with their thoughts. Let’s look more closely at Trump’s irresponsible and maladaptive thinking patterns as it relates to sexual abuse.
He thinks, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the (genitals).” Therefore, he acts in such a way that exhibits an abuse of power.
He thinks his daughter is “a piece of ass” and he made comments about trying to have sex with married women. Therefore, he acts with no regard for boundaries.
He thinks that what happened before doesn’t count or what happens now does not effect the future. There is little sense that behavior has consequences. “It was a private conversation that took place many years ago.” Therefore, he exhibits compartmentalized thinking and believes he should not be held accountable for these actions.
He thinks “This was locker-room talk. It’s just words, folks. It’s just words.” Therefore, he hides behind denial and minimization.
He thinks he apologized, but did he really? “I apologize IF anyone was offended.” This exhibits a refusal to fully accept responsibility. He also expressed regret for saying “the wrong thing” but did not apologize for doing the wrong thing. Abusers tend to make insincere and inadequate apologies.
He thinks his behavior is not abnormal because others have engaged in similar fashion. When asked directly, and repeatedly if he had ever grabbed a woman’s genitals without permission, by Anderson Cooper, Trump used diversion to point to Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, ISIS . . . anything but answer the question directly and with remorse. This is a diversion tactic.
He thinks he has great respect for women. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.” Yet he has called women “fat pigs” and “dogs.” His words of respect are designed to please in the moment but they are not a true reflection of his beliefs. This is an example of incongruency.
He thinks “I wouldn’t have said those things if I knew I would eventually run for president.” This is the use of manipulation.
He thinks it’s OK to view women in vulnerable states without consent. Trump admitted to spying on naked women at the Miss USA pageants. This is predatory behavior.
He thinks he is of special status. “I’ll tell you the funniest is that I’ll go backstage before a show and everyone’s getting dressed . . . I’m allowed to go in, because I’m the owner of the pageant. They’re standing there with no clothes. And you see these incredible looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.” This is grandiose entitlement.
How we treat one another is a reflection of what we believe about them, whether behind closed doors or face to face. We should have respect both privately and publicly. Allies are critical to effecting change around these issues – especially men challenging the behavior of other men. It is important to express disapproval of the remarks or behavior when it happens, or express support for the target.
Not everyone shares Trump’s thinking. Instead of being like Trump:
Be Anderson Cooper, who challenged Trump directly at the presidential debate. “You described kissing women without their consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”
Be NBC who suspended Billy Bush who colluded with Trump in 2005 by laughing and goading him on as they exchanged vulgar and misogynistic talk about women.
Be CJ McCollum, Jamal Craword and Jacob Tamme who are among current and former professional athletes on social media to criticize Trump’s comments about “locker room banter.” They state that they haven’t heard that in any locker rooms. “It’s not normal. And even if it was normal, it’s not right.”
Be Dean Obeidallah, radio a show host, who called out Trump for inappropriate behavior. He said that he’s heard many young men speak in ways that objectified women, and many bragged about their sexual conquests in an effort to impress. “But I never heard a man boast or even talk about kissing or groping women without their consent. That is bragging about sexual assaulting women. It’s that simple.”
In an ideal world, when Donald Trump was initially confronted with his abusive behavior, he would have replied with a genuine acknowledgment of wrongdoing. A reasonable response might be “I hear your complaint, I acknowledge that I have hurt you, I will educate myself on this topic, I will participate in treatment to ensure that I won’t continue to do these things, and I will encourage others to hold me accountable to change.” But he didn’t make a reasonable response. Instead he utilized tactics to avoid accountability.
Studies have shown that abusers employ numerous tactics to avoid being held accountable. Abusers put others on the defense by attacking their competency or attacking them personally. They bring up irrelevant issues, minimize the situation, pay little or no attention to complaints, or demonstrate anger. They attempt to control information. They might agree with no intention of following through, they will say whatever satisfies at the moment. They leave information out, distort it, or mention self-serving information only. They may be intentionally vague, attempt to confuse others, or use silence by refusing to give any information. They will control interactions by listening selectively and hearing only what is self-serving. They may divert attention to minor points. They may insist they “forgot” in order to avoid being held accountable. They may focus on being “misunderstood.” Abusers may shift to blaming others and/or circumstances. Abusers often shift attention to themselves as the victim. They will exhibit closed thinking becoming unwilling to listen, engage in meaningful conversation, and will not be self-critical. Their goal is to silence those they abuse.
These are the beliefs and tactics of an abuser, whether it is sexual, emotional, financial or physical abuse. And these are the beliefs and tactics of institutional abuse as it applies to entire groups of people of a particular gender, race, nationality, or sexual orientation.
If you see a pattern of beliefs and tactics that are typical of an abuser, make no doubt that you are in a relationship with an abuser. Seek safety. Riverview Center is a local program in Jo Daviess County of Illinois providing free and confidential advocacy and counseling services to survivors of sexual and domestic abuse. Their 24-hour hotline number is 815-777-8155. Carrie Melton, Executive Director, of Riverview states “If you are a survivor of sexual abuse or assault, know that we believe you, hear you, see you, and are here for you. The focus may be on Trump, but we are not going to let survivors be minimized or forgotten.” If you are a victim of abuse outside of Jo Daviess County, reach out to your health care provider, police, area counselors and mental health professionals. Also speak out against sexual violence and be active against misogynistic behavior.