Like millions of American women, I’ve been reading E. Jean Carroll for decades. Witty, incisive, uncompromising and very, very smart, her work has appeared in myriad venues, from Rolling Stone to Esquire, Elle to Playboy. She had a talk show on NBC and was nominated for an Emmy for her writing for Saturday Night Live.
Now 75, Carroll has been writing about sex for more than 50 years as a ribald, good-time, why-shouldn’t-women-have-as-much-sex-and-as-much-fun-as-men, no-holds-barred columnist.
Carroll was on the cover of New York magazine last week, wearing a black coatdress, black tights and black heels, arms folded across her chest. She’s still model-slender and casually elegant, with close-cropped hair. Next to her on the cover, in stark black, were the words “This is what I was wearing 23 years ago when Donald Trump attacked me in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room.”
I was stunned. Sure, we all know that Trump has been accused of varying degrees of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. But I never knew those women. I knew Carroll — or at least felt like I did. Her writing was so personal, like she was talking to you, which made seeing her with those words feel like seeing a friend make the same bold and shocking accusation.
On June 24 I watched Carroll on CNN’s “AC 360” with Anderson Cooper. He grilled her. She told her story. She ran into Trump at Bergdorf’s. He recognized her from her advice column, she knew him because everyone in NYC knew him. He asked for her help, she gave it. As she told the story, it was a fun, flirty adventure of the sort she’d been writing about for years. They were joking, having a good time. She was helping him find a gift for a woman; they were enjoying each other’s company and banter.
They joked about who was going to try on the lingerie they had chosen as a gift. Then they landed in a deserted dressing room and he slammed her hard against the wall — so hard her head hurt — and he raped her.
The details are harrowing and ring intolerably true. She blames herself. She doesn’t like calling it rape because she says other women have been more badly hurt. She says women are disbelieved. She says people “think rape is sexy” because of the industry around rape fantasies — the “50 Shades of Grey” franchise springs to mind.
It was heartbreaking.
Trump denied the accusation, saying he’d never heard of her. But a photo of the two of them was embedded in the New York magazine story, from the 90s when the alleged rape occurred. Trump said she “wasn’t my type,” something he’s said before about previous assault allegations. Never that he’s not a rapist. Always that the woman isn’t good looking enough to assault. But rape is a crime of violence, not an act of mutual, consensual sexual attraction.
After I heard the interview, I went back and re-read another rape account, one from someone Trump could never claim wasn’t his type: his first wife, Ivana. Nearly all the details were the same as Carroll’s, from the hair pulling and head slamming to the particular type of penetration. At the time, Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen, now in prison, said a husband couldn’t rape a wife.
On June 26, the Washington Post wrote a sharply worded editorial about Trump and Carroll, calling for an accounting — for her, for us. But no newspaper — including the Post — had covered the story on the front page. The New York Times had secreted it in the book section. And when the question of a congressional inquiry was raised, some of the worst responses came from Democrats. “Oh my god, we have enough inquiries going on!” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), about the rape accusation against Trump and whether the House should address it. “I think that would be ridiculous,” Bass said.
Is this where we are, now? That the credible rape accusation from a well-known writer against a sitting president who has famously declared he in fact does grab women by their genitalia without consent merits no investigation and would be “ridiculous”?
One in five American women is a victim of rape. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) there were nearly half a million rapes in 2016, most unreported to police. According to the CDC, rape statistics are higher among lesbian, bisexual and transgender women than their heterosexual peers. Acquaintance rape — like that alleged between Trump and Carroll — is most prevalent, with more than 70 percent of victims knowing their attacker.
But why, everyone asks, didn’t Carroll report? Why now?
She says at the time of the assault a friend she told said she shouldn’t report because Trump would bury her with lawyers. We know now that would have been true. But we also know what the Washington Post reported: that only about 0.7 percent of rapes and attempted rapes — less than 1 percent — end in a felony conviction.
So despite #MeToo, despite all the accusations against this president, despite Carroll’s stature and her bravery in coming forward which has brought her harassment and death threats, this story will cycle out. And all that will be left will be all those other rapes, every few minutes, and all those other victims, never, ever getting justice. What’s worse, if Carroll isn’t believed, why should the LGBTQ population believe we will be?