Will Trump’s lawsuit threats silence sexual assault accusers?

Donald Trump threatened to sue the women who have publicly accused him of sexual misconduct Saturday. But some advocates say that won’t stop women from coming forward.

Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during a campaign event on Saturday in Gettysburg, Pa.

Donald Trump said he plans to sue the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, a tactic that women’s rights advocates say is meant to silence any other accusers who may want to come forward with additional allegations.

More than 10 women have publicly accused the Republican presidential candidate of groping or kissing them against their will, and Mr. Trump has denied all of the claims, citing Hillary Clinton’s campaign as the source spurring his accusers to come forward. Many of the claims come from decades-old alleged incidents, leading some to wonder why the women stayed silent for so long, and others to question the truth of their allegations.

"Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign," Trump said while in Gettysburg, Pa., Saturday. "Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over."

"It was probably the [Democratic National Committee] and Hillary's campaign who put forward these liars with their fabricated stories," he added. "But we'll probably find out later through litigation, which we're so looking forward to."

The allegations against Trump began mounting earlier this month after The Washington Post published a 2005 recording in which the real estate mogul bragged about sexually assaulting women. For nearly two weeks, new accusers have slowly stepped forward, and it’s impossible to tell how many could harbor similar stories with the potential to damage Trump’s campaign.

"The dam has broken, and more women will be coming forward," Gloria Allred, an attorney representing some of Trump’s accusers, said earlier this month.

Facing stigma, many victims of sexual misconduct and assault have historically remained silent, fearing for their safety and attempting to put traumatic instances in the past. But as attitudes toward sexual assault have shifted, victims have become more confident, coming forward to accuse even those in powerful positions, such as Bill Cosby or Bill Clinton. Now, Trump finds himself in a similar situation.

“We see evidence that the shame and stigma that has silenced victims for centuries is finally crumbling; one needs to look no further than the #notok, #ithappenedtome, #whyIstayed and #FreeKesha hashtags on Twitter that demonstrate support for victims and thousands of survivors emboldened to tell their stories,” National Sexual Violence Resource Center communications director Laura Palumbo previously told The Christian Science Monitor.

As advocates, survivors, and allies have rallied around the accusers, they’ve built a support system and safe space for many to tell their stories.

"If Mr. Trump thought that such bullying tactics would silence his accusers and prevent other women from coming forward, he will be sorely disappointed,” Ms. Allred said during a Saturday news conference in Los Angeles. “Women will not be intimidated into silence by Donald Trump.”

This isn’t the first legal action Trump has considered in regard to the allegations. When the news first broke, he threatened to sue media outlets, including The New York Times, who had published the accounts. When a lawyer for Trump demanded the Times retract an article regarding the sexual misconduct allegations and called them “libel per se,” the Times’ legal team responded with a letter refusing to comply.

“If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight,” the letter said.

When facing that same threat from Trump, Temple Taggart, who says the Republican candidate kissed her without her consent, said she wasn’t surprised by his tactics.

"Regardless, it's still disappointing to think that Mr. Trump lacks enough humility and decency to simply come clean and admit his part in all of this rather than attempt to conceal the truth and silence his accusers by threatening a lawsuit," she told CNN.

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