“You’re speaking to a survivor of abuse, and I have friends who are survivors of sexual assault,” I said. “How can you look at me, recognize my humanity, and still stand by and defend Donald Trump in light of the tape in which he boasts of sexual assault and makes comments that embody rape culture?"
When I respectfully asked this of Omarosa — a Trump surrogate — after the second presidential debate at my school, Wash U, I expected an answer. But unlike countless others with whom I disagree and have challenged, Omarosa did not give me respect, nor did she give me an answer. She dismissed me — as so many survivors of abuse and sexual assault so often are.
“Look, I was on The Apprentice so I know Mr. Trump, and I know that he loves women,” Omarosa said.
What followed was an interaction that reaffirmed everything I know to be true about our culture’s complicity in violence against women — a culture I am devoted to fighting. I was born and raised in the South: Charlotte, North Carolina, which is a liberal, blue city surrounded by a sea of red. Yet I grew up in an essentially apolitical family. I never knew how my parents voted, and they never really talked about their views.
But I have always loved politics and instinctively refused to apathetically shrug my shoulders in the face of an unjust world. So when I learned that my school had been selected to host a presidential debate, I was beyond excited and applied to be a volunteer. Two months later, I was honored to learn I had been selected to participate, and the day before the event itself, I learned I would be in the midst of the action as an usher.
There I was on debate day: Elated to be present during this pivotal moment in our nation's history, to be in the spin room after the debate with the likes of Nigel Farage, Rudy Giuliani, and Chris Matthews.
And then, suddenly, there I was in the bathroom of the spin room, crying. Soon after, thousands of Americans encountered my teary face when reporter Christa Dubill interviewed me about my experience after finding me there.
Some background: I’m a survivor of an abusive relationship, and it’s been quite a road to recovery. Friends, family, and others on campus supported me, yet my most powerful resource was myself, and I am proud of that. Despite our society’s toxic victim-blaming culture, I have refused to feel ashamed and have successfully reclaimed my agency. I once considered myself a victim, but now I call myself a survivor and am determined to use my experience to help others.
A piece of this process involved joining a group on campus called LIVE (Leaders in Interpersonal Violence Education), which educates our peers on the prevalence of interpersonal violence. Though many survivors remain in the shadows due to the social stigma that surrounds abuse and sexual assault, statistically most Americans will know at least one woman who has or who will endure this type of unspeakable treatment at some point in her life. I’m only 20, and I certainly do.
Sexism and violence against women are personal issues to me, and the public revelation of Donald Trump’s comments boasting about sexually assaulting women, therefore, felt personal.
"I don’t even wait."
"Grab them by the pussy."
"You can do anything."
Yet, even before the tape was released, experiencing this election as a survivor felt personal — for me and for countless trauma survivors across the nation. Donald Trump has a long, documented history of sexism, misogyny, and perpetuating rape culture. From Ivana Trump’s sworn deposition in which she describes a brutal rape that occurred during her marriage to Donald, to Trump’s sexist, objectifying comments about Megyn Kelly, Miss Universe Alicia Machado, and his own daughter, to his vigorous defense of convicted rapist Mike Tyson, survivors have heard it all — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I don’t understand how anyone with a shred of human decency could continue to support this man after recorded evidence of him defending sexual assault was released. Between that and a mountain of other evidence, it’s unequivocally and undeniably clear who Donald Trump is: a misogynist who sees and treats women as objects to be used and disposed of at his narcissistic whim.
But I wanted to understand. So while I was in that spin room, I approached Omarosa and asked her about her decision to defend him.
She deflected the question and asserted (without evidence) that Donald Trump “respects women.” She treated my question, and the evidence of my history of surviving abuse, as an isolated incident worthy of a pity party, rather than part of the systemic issues of sexism and rape culture that Trump represents.
When I pressed her further, she acted like I was hysterical and referred to my own abuse by repeatedly telling me, “I didn’t do that to you.”
Excuse me, what? Omarosa, did I ever imply that you personally were my abuser? No, I didn’t. But because you mention it, though neither you nor Donald Trump are my abuser (no matter how much Trump does remind me of him, given that they both have clinical levels of narcissism), this issue is relevant to you and your chosen candidate because his behavior as a likely perpetrator of sexual assault and certainly a mouthpiece for rape culture should disqualify him for the presidency. And your disrespect of me, your choice to stand with him over survivors everywhere, disqualifies you from the realm of humans who have basic compassion for others.
Then it got worse: She not only continued to refuse to answer my question but also condescendingly and disingenuously told me that she could find me “resources” to help me deal with my trauma.
Again, what the hell? I didn’t come to her looking for “resources.” I have already dealt with my trauma. This response played directly into our society’s broader scrutinization of women who are angry, sad, or frustrated — who show any damn emotion at all — and the tendency to paint those women as “hysterical” and “unreliable.”
I’m neither “mentally unstable” nor “hysterical.” I’m a survivor who was rightfully frustrated when someone representing a presidential candidate refused to recognize my humanity, refused to look me in the eye and answer my question. I came to Omarosa with a legitimate question. When I pointed out her condescension and refusal to answer it, she only said, “Baby girl, I’m not minimizing you” (because calling someone “baby girl” isn’t minimizing at all).
Perhaps Omarosa didn’t answer because there is no answer. There is no excuse. There is no deflection, distraction, or spin in the world that can change Donald Trump from what he is: a misogynist. But rather than admit that there is no excuse for standing by him, rather than try to conjure up any intelligible response, she instead perpetuated the exact culture I’m seeking to dismantle — a culture in which violence against women is dismissed despite its prevalence. Her attack on me felt like a broader symbolic attack on the survivors for whom I fight.
When I realized this, I started to get emotional and removed myself from the situation. Tears formed in my eyes as Omarosa smiled and said, “Next question.”
I quickly started to walk away, but two Bloomberg reporters immediately noticed my distress and stopped me as I was leaving. I only spoke to them briefly before I made it to the bathroom. There, I wiped the remnants of my mascara from under my eyes with a crunchy paper towel, regaining my composure. Washing her hands in the sink next to me was news reporter Christa Dubill. She asked me what was wrong, and after comforting me, she asked if she could help share my voice with the world.
I hesitated. Very few of my friends and family knew that I was a survivor of abuse. But my hesitation was quickly overcome by my conviction that what Omarosa had done was wrong, and that what Donald Trump is doing is even more wrong. I knew I could not be silent. So I shared my story.
I then went home, got into bed, and woke up the next morning to a flood of texts of support, texts asking me if I was okay.
By the time I saw Christa's video, Jake Tapper had already retweeted it and it had gone viral. I was out of the closet as a survivor of abuse. But what was Omarosa’s response? Had she ignored it? Had she apologized?
Just the opposite. Omarosa went on an all-out offensive against me, a 20-year-old college girl whom she had upset with her callous, condescending remarks and dismissal of survivors everywhere. She tweeted that I was “#fake” since I couldn’t accurately recall her name, claimed I must have been a hired actress, and painted the word “#fraud” across my face — all to her tens of thousands of followers, who subsequently took it upon themselves to seek me out and denigrate me.
I set up a Twitter account solely to call her out and respectfully ask her to take down her attacks against me. Instead, she blocked me like a coward, leaving me unable to even defend myself against the pictures she posted of my own face. Like so many women before me who have come forward with stories of abuse, she reduced me to an unreliable liar.
Bloomberg Politics released a video the next day, and though it only contains the tail end of our conversation, it confirms that we had spoken — thus exposing Omarosa’s cruel and false presentation of my story, her assertion that I was a liar.
Her response? Silence.
My response to that? To fight back harder. In the days since my face was all over Twitter and Facebook, I've received a lot of hate — comments dissecting my crying, criticizing my “acting” and claiming I’m “too sensitive.”
I’d like to see any one of these people live through what I have, to crawl their way up from hell fighting for their life, to rise out of it all victorious. What I have been through has given me thick skin, but that doesn’t mean I should never be vulnerable. I had every right to be angered by Trump’s words and Omarosa’s response, both of which reflect the larger culture in which we exist — a culture that maintains sexism and is complicit in violence against women, that conflates “sexual assault talk” with “locker room talk.” A culture that Donald Trump embodies, but that we can help prevent, long after he is gone.
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