LAS VEGAS – Donald Trump called his infamous remarks caught on video “locker-room banter.” Many others, both men and women, called them the language of sexual assault. Trump fired back that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted women. However, millennials wanted a debate, not allegations, in the serious conversation around sexual assault.
Anna Voremberg, managing director of End Rape on Campus, had hoped campus sexual assault would be a topic in the president campaign.
“We had always hoped the election would have a sexual assault conversation, but we really wish it hadn’t happened like this.” Voremberg. “Someone asked me if there was a silver lining here, and in regards to people talking about it, sure. But I would never call something that has affected so many people a silver lining. I was hoping this conversation would be in the form of platforms and talking about policies.”
Before the first presidential debate, the Clinton campaign released a video detailing Trump’s behavior towards 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado; he called her names like “Miss Piggy” and had TV crews film her working out after she gained 10 pounds. A number of women then renewed their sexual assault allegations against former President Bill Clinton, saying Hillary Clinton worked to cover her husband’s assaults, statements that have been debunked.
But the biggest conversation of sexual violence started when a video was released of Trump’s self-described “locker room banter” in which he describes sexually assaulting a woman. Since then, many women have come forward with sexual assault accusations against Trump, and after the final presidential debate, he threatened to sue them all.
Millennials are estimated to make up one-third of voters this election year, many in college. Each of the three presidential debates was held on a college campus, where the issue of sexual assault hits close to home. Jonathan Jimenez attends school at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, site of the third debate. He believes the least safe place in the world for a woman is on a college campus.
“When you have things like frats that perpetuate rape culture, you put young women in harm’s way,” Jimenez, 24, said.
He said the Trump video “will make people talk and wonder, ‘What are people getting away with and why did we let them get away with it in the first place?’”
According to a study by the Association of American Universities, more than one in five undergraduate women disclosed being victims of sexual assault or misconduct. While rates of reporting sexual abuse on campuses ranged from 5 percent to 28 percent depending on the type of behavior, the majority of such incidents go unreported.
Campus sexual assault was once again national news earlier this year when Stanford University student Brock Turner was sentenced to jsix months in jail after raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster in early 2015.
Carmelle Millar, a Stanford sophomore, is part of a student-run sexual assault education group and said the campaign is bringing back a surge of emotions among Stanford students.
“It’s interesting how for the first time, we see an American leader be so visibly involved with sexual assault,” Millar, 19, said. “I think our generation can see the absurdity of this and can notice the rest of the American population that believes in the things he’s been saying.”
After Trump referred to his remarks as locker-room talk, sexual assault survivors shared their own experiences using the hashtag #notOK on social media.
The Rape and Incest National Network hotline has seen an increase in calls and requests during this election season. Many people are sharing their sexual assault stories or seeking help for the first time because of increased trauma from the national conversation, according to Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Response Center.
Increased trauma for sexual assault victims because of the campaign rhetoric is a big worry for the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance at Rutgers University. Interim Director Laura Luciano said the office created social media posts providing support and comfort to victims on certain days — such as debate nights or the days following reports of new allegations.
“We’re focusing on helping students and survivors understand that we’re aware the political climate right now may be causing them to be triggered or bring up feelings that they are already having about their own experiences,” Luciano said.
In 2014, Rutgers-New Brunswick was among the top 10 colleges in number of rape reports on their campus. Since then, the school has created educational programs to combat abuse and encourage survivors to report their attack.
Luciano said they also discuss the misogyny of some anti-Hillary Clinton slogans (“Trump that Bitch”) and try to make students know they will be heard when reporting sexual violence.
She said the next challenge is turning the conversation from Trump to society.
“It’s not just about this one man that happens to be running for office, the highest office,” Luciano said. “It’s about the fact that people don’t believe that grabbing someone or forcing yourself on someone without consent is a problem. So it does create a bigger issue for as a whole.”