Should Trump be using 'rape' to describe US-China relations?

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has described the present trade relationship between China and the US as 'rape.' But regardless of trade policy, critics say the term 'rape' should only be used to describe cases of sexual violence.

Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind., on May 1, 2016.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump accused China of "raping" the United States in trade policy at a rally in Indiana Sunday. 

"We're going to turn it around. And we have the cards, don't forget it. We're like the piggy bank that's being robbed. We have the cards. We have a lot of power with China," Mr. Trump said Sunday at a rally in Fort Wayne, Ind. "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country, and that's what they're doing. It's the greatest theft in the history of the world." 

Trump is referencing the US trade deficit with China, an issue Trump has made central to his campaign. And recent figures do show a skewed relationship between the two world powers: In January and February the US exported $16.3 billion in goods to China but imported $73.3 billion in goods. 

"Donald Trump has repeatedly accused China of manipulating its currency to make its exports more competitive, with what he says are damaging consequences for the US economy," explains the BBC. "Critics, including Mr. Trump, claim China is keeping its currency at an unnaturally low level to boost its exports to the US, which also damages the prospects of US firms selling their goods to China. That, they say, has created a huge trade imbalance." 

Trump's supporters say he's calling it like it is and he uses hyperbole as a negotiating tool – a strong opening position.

China has not responded to this latest slur. The Huffington Post wrote last September that China sees Trump as reinforcing its criticism of the US political system. 

Chinese state media has been relatively muted in response to Trump, often omitting his rants about China when covering his campaign. That's surprising given the level of vitriol state media routinely flings at Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, and the fact that Trump's words and actions actually play well with the Chinese Communist Party's own propaganda.

... At the same time, Trump's brand of reality-show-as-politics feeds the second part of that equation: propaganda portrayals of Western democracies as hopelessly mired in indecision and demagoguery.

Even if Trump's claims are true, and China is manipulating its currency to make its exports more competitive, critics say he's insensitively misappropriated the word "rape."  

"When I hear the word 'rape,' especially when it is used out of context, it makes me extremely uncomfortable. Often, it can be a trigger, causing fragments of my assaults to come flooding back… It can make me feel unsafe – either physically or emotionally – in the company of people who’ve said it," Amelia Shroyer writes for The Huffington Post in response to misuse of the word. "Rape is not something that can describe any other thing but sexual violence. To continue to do so is to dishonor these women (and men) who have already had so much taken away from them." 

Fiona Elvines, operations coordinator of the British organization Rape Crisis, tells The Telegraph that using "rape" out of context is dangerous.

"They just really minimise sexual assault," she explains. "It takes away from the fact that rape is a crime. It's not a verb you can throw around.... They may think they're saying it as a joke to people who'll find it funny. But, odds are, they're talking to someone who has some experience of it. The impact that can have [is huge]."

Republican politicians have gained a reputation for insensitive rape comments, from former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's comment that in the case of "legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down," to former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's distinction between "forcible" and non-forcible rape. And while Republican male politicians have repeatedly offended their constituents with their commentary on rape, some say it is a topic that male politicians should avoid altogether. 

"Right now, it is rhetorical territory that is fraught with peril. Women don't want to hear men talk about rape no matter what party they are in," GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak tells US News. "Men cannot credibly and sensibly with sensitivity address rape. No one has done it yet." 

But these examples differ from Trump's analogy Sunday because the presidential frontrunner is using the word out of context, in situations that have nothing to do with sexual violence.

Trump has used this comparison before, previously claiming that "China is raping this country" while touring a defense manufacturer in New Hampshire back in 2011, CNN reports. And although this is the first time Trump has used "rape" to describe the US relationship with China since announcing his candidacy, the real estate mogul applied the word in June 2015 when announcing his candidacy for president.

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.... They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

But Trump is no stranger to controversial analogies on the campaign trail, especially as they apply to women's rights – a pattern that may be feeding Trump's current lackluster ratings among women voters

During an MSNBC Town Hall interview in March, Trump told host Chris Matthews that women who receive an abortion should be subject to "some form of punishment." He later rephrased his statement to say he is pro-life with exceptions. Trump's comments have led to violent protests across the country, the most recent clash occurring last week in Orange County

Trump has recently flaunted the endorsement of boxer Mike Tyson, who was convicted of rape in Indiana, ahead of Tuesday's crucial primary in the state. According to a NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll from Thursday, Trump has a 15 point lead over GOP rival Ted Cruz in Indiana. 

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