A Legacy of Pain: How Can Sexual Assault Survivors Support Trump?
When news came out that Kathy Shelton supported Trump in lieu of the mistreatment of her rape case by Hillary Clinton, it was hard to read those words. Hard doesn’t even begin to cover the feeling behind discovering that fact, but, it’s the start of something close to it, that is tangible, that has edges, that curves to fit in a hand to hold and examine, and that is the work that I’m seeking to undertake: How can sexual assault survivors vocalize support for a man who has been found suspect to raping a 13 year old woman? Further, and something that is harder than hard to say, that is like slamming my fist into a ball of clay and not being able to move inside of it, although I know I’m touching something, am entangled in something that I can’t quite fit into a shape so much as be shaped around it: My mother, a sexual assault survivor and one that knows that in my lifetime I too have had to “figure out” how to survive sexual assault, supports Trump.
I know in my heart of battered hearts that is not irrational for someone to hold two separate truths in contradiction; in fact this #Election2016 season taught me that it is worthy of televised media attention, so why do I feel as if someone stood in front of the door of my home, barring my entry? Why do I have such whiplash, snapping my head in the other direction? Perhaps it’s also because in addition to these hard truths, we’ve come so close as a country to taking measures to support sexual assault survivors. On October 7th, 2016, Obama signed a bill, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, into law that would protect sexual assault survivors (per Mother Jones):
“Survivors can no longer be charged fees or prevented from getting a rape kit examination, even if they have not yet decided to file a police report. Once the medical examination is completed, the kits must be preserved, at no cost to the survivor, until the applicable statute of limitations runs out. Survivors will now be able to request that authorities notify them before destroying their rape kits, and they have the right to request that the evidence be preserved. Once the kit is tested, they’ll also have the right to be notified of important results — including a DNA profile match and toxicology report.”
Now that bill, that law that was made to support women like my mother, women like me, female-identifying bodies, femmes, and all people who’ve been assaulted, feels like a distant memory. It almost feels null in void if our Presidential-Elect is himself an aggressor, a man who has been accused of raping his own wife, and is the kind of man that made this bill of rights a necessity for our women and populous in America.
So, how can a woman of my blood, a white women whose endured violence against her by men her entire life, support his tyranny? There will not be a direct answer to this question; this kind of easiness is reserved for Trivial Pursuit. That truth, a kind of implicit rightness and wrongness that makes rhetorical lanes easy to spot and stay inside and not swerve into the areas of contradiction and fear, does not exist in our reality, in anything or anyone.
What I do know and what I do sense and what I do fear and hear from women like my mother is this captive quality of Trump is something that inspires a sense of calm in them. A sense of protection. Regardless to how and why this is stated, it’s impossible to not liken that mindset to that of Stockholm-syndrome. My mother has told me that she feels safe in her choice to vote for him and this is where the underlying logic of her decision really begins to trouble me. His power can help us rebuild our economy. He didn’t mean what he said. Isn’t that the same logic we hear of abusers?
“He didn’t mean it. It was just this once.”
It was more than once.
“You can’t take it out of context. You’d have to have been there.”
I think he means exactly what he says.
“He couldn’t have done that, or he wouldn’t be a president.”
But, he is.
“You’re being too tough on him.”
She is defending him, but in a way that is so familiar to the ways I’ve also heard her speak about past abusers that I can’t ignore that connection. I can’t ignore that she uses the same well tone about him that she did when she explained how her father could beat her until she couldn’t sit down, but it was just a different time, we didn’t talk about it. She’s speaking as if she too is in a cage but cannot see the bars, nor the lock, the gatekeeper, nor her reflection. His corrupt reign has led her to see Clinton as a nasty woman, judging her as someone who is unfit for presidency as she, as a woman, is too harsh and outspoken. She does not see the likeness. She does not see kinship. She sees enemy. She sees someone who can’t be like her.
Trump inspires the same familiar and entrapping qualities as that of a captive: his ability to potentially crush you and yet, his decision to not to extends the preverbal carrot at the end of the stick and in doing so brings an earned type of trust and affection. For her, there is a real sense of being saved from the ability to have her existence destroyed. She’s grateful for his position as facing the realities of what it would mean to oppose him, to oppose the doctrines and underlying societal norms that created him, would be too much to bear.
What’s worse, is that his presence only seems to feed into the toxicity of trauma that she has experience in her life. Survivors of past trauma, myself included, often become stuck in this kind of un-logic that is hard to articulate to those who have not experienced its oppressive power.
Cyclical abuse patterns happen to those who’ve been exposed to trauma and have not finished processing it (if that process is ever actually “finished,” is up for debate). The cycle is a kind of knee-jerk sense of self that the survivor doesn’t realize (though they can, and also can stop it) that they are stuck inside of — alternating between the victim, the persecuted, the aggressor, the saved, the savior — as it is easier for the brain to remember past, flawed connections than to work at creating new, healthier ones.
In layman’s terms: It is easy to be the persecutor after having felt victimized. It is even easier to want to feel like the savior, to create situations in which only you can make the world better, or only you know the right choice for our country to make it “great” again, because haven’t you felt enough pain to know how to stop the pain of others? Aren’t you the best judge to who is worthy or not of our country’s leadership?
Without coming to terms with the flawed connections of logic that is propelling them to cling to what can only hurt them, without looking at themselves and fully seeing how misused power has hurt them and how they can change their reactions to prevent further upset for them and others, no healing can be done. Only more pain can come from this. Only leaps in flawed logic occur where a man that is a hateful person is seen as savior. Only attachments to statuettes of unimaginable power ring true. Only the little voice, beneath all that noise, begging to be in a position where they will not be walked over, will not be silenced, will not be harmed nor beaten nor bloodied, speaks to them. And it speaks with a forked tongue. I do not blame my mother or women like her, I am deeply saddened that the very thing that propels their fear has just been given a seat in the White House.
While there is more work to be done to fully understand why white women voted more for Trump than Clinton (including, but not limited to: class fragility, white fragility, xenophobia, inadequate access to educational materials, sensationalism in media, familiar ties with a legacy of hate) it is not a coincidence that those who have survived sexual assault also find him comforting. It is an entangled hard truth that we have sewn into the fabric of America and it is one that we must seek to unravel or we risk propelling the cyclical abuse to continue for those who deserve more from us.