Why I Waited 23 Years to Speak Up
I've got reasons
(from left) Donald Trump, me, my then-husband John Johnson, the CBS anchorman, Ivana Trump
Before I tell you why I didn’t speak up, here’s a painfully relevant question from the 2019 vault:
Dear E. Jean:
Talking to classmates recently, I learned that "everyone knew" about a creepy male professor in the Mechanical Engineering department; and I was so glad when my daughter decided to go to school closer to home rather than follow my path to MIT. He still has an honored role at MIT and most of the young women he harmed are now older and probably, like me, won't give the school a dime since he's still there. I'm not sure if that is enough. Do you have any recommendations of action that might be fruitful? We spoke up at the time, but that was the 1990s —Something’s Still Rotten at MIT
Still, My Luv:
Not giving MIT money because a male professor did horrible things to female students is good. Writing a letter to the President of MIT, Dr. L. Rafael Reif and the Chancellor, Melissa Nobles and telling them what he did to you and other female students is better. Having the letter signed by three, four or five of you is even more effective. Sending a copy of the letter to the Boston Globe or New York Times and/or Katie Phang at MSNBC is the most effective of all.
There will be a storm, yes. But the storm passes quickly. It is now two weeks since I accused President Trump, and most of the country has forgotten about it already.
Good luck! Let me know how you are doing!
“It is now two weeks since I accused President Trump, and most of the country has forgotten about it already.”
I was fired by Elle not long after.
I don’t know about you, Sainted Reader, but when I dug this letter out of the old wine box where I keep my treasures—and read my answer—I had to walk round the cabin eight or nine times to stop laughing.
I was so innocent!
“The country forgetting” didn’t make it on my list of reasons Why I Waited 23 Years to Speak Up. Oh, it’s a reason, all right. In many cases, you can call out your rapist and nothing happens. He will go on—smiling, romping through the begonias—while you’re left face-down in the mud. But here’s the rub. Like all great truths, the exact opposite of it is also true: speaking up can cause quite a fuss.
I mentioned “the fuss” I kicked up in the letter I just sent to the Assembly Members of the New York State Legislature. I spent most of last night writing to many of them individually because there’s a vote coming up on something called the Adult Survivors’ Act.
This brilliant Act, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, is modeled on the 2019 Child Victims Act, which created a one-year window for thousands of victims to waive statutes of limitations and bring civil claims against those who sexually abused them when they were minors. The Adult Survivors Act would do the same thing by giving adult survivors one year to file civil lawsuits against their rapists or abusers regardless of the prior statute of limitations.
You see, in New York, even if you recover from an assault, manage to regain your wits, and get the guts to speak up, you lose your right to pursue your attacker in court if you don’t speak up quick enough.
For instance, in 1979 or 1980, former stockbroker Jessica Leeds was on a plane headed to New York, and Donald Trump invited her to join him up in first-class. He talked about himself as they ate their airline meal, and then—“he didn’t have a book, I think he was bored”—Trump lunged on her, pushing, rolling against her, squeezing her breasts, and attempting to shove his fingers up her skirt. She said, “it was like he had four hands.”
Jessica kept all that from the public for 35 years.
How do you even begin to explain the horror of enjoying a nice meal with lovely linen, and suddenly having it turn into an assault? Then she saw Trump denying—three times—to Anderson Cooper in 2016’s second presidential debate that he ever “kissed or groped a woman without consent.” The program was barely off the air when Jessica contacted The New York Times and came forward to tell her story. But the date was wayyyy past when she could have held Donald Trump accountable in court.
Want another example? I beg your pardon, dear Reader, I will be using the unsentimental language women employ when we talk to one another, and remind you that when Trump pinched—“squished....it was like a squeeze”—Kristin Anderson’s vulva in the China Club in the early ’90s, Kristen never even thought of going to the police. Have you ever faced a policeman and tried to explain what you mean by “squished?” She told close friends, but it took a reporter from The Washington Post calling her after Trump’s Access Hollywood tape came to light to get the story, and Kristin still had to take several days to make up her mind to tell the world.
When her story appeared, Kristin, a respected photographer with a young son, was hounded by Trump supporters. And, yet, because of New York’s statute of limitations, Kristin could not hold Trump to account in a court of law.
One more story: Make-up artist Jill Harth and her then-husband, George Houraney, were celebrating a business deal with Trump in late 1992 and were his guests at a New York City club. George stood up to photograph Jill and Trump sitting together at a table, and, while Trump smiled at the camera, Jill told me, the president-to-be put his hand under the table, ran it up her leg, and stuck his finger into her vagina. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, after a long interview with Jill in 2016, titled the column he wrote about her: Donald Trump, Groper in Chief.
But alas. Time had run out. Jill can not be heard in a New York Court.
And now, here are the reasons I waited 23 years to speak up. I put them in the letter I wrote last night to members of the New York Assembly:
My name is E. Jean Carroll. I’m a survivor of sexual assault. I stayed silent for years after I was attacked, and by staying silent lost my chance to hold my attacker accountable. I was raped by Donald Trump. And while my rapist may be famous, my story is, sadly, extremely common.
So, I’m about to tell you all the reasons why I didn’t report the rape when it happened. I’m telling you because the Adult Survivors Act (S66/A648)—a brilliant piece of legislation which would give adult sexual assault survivors one year to file civil lawsuits regardless of the prior statute of limitations—is coming up for a vote.
In the mid 1990’s Trump violently attacked me. When I told my close friend—a TV news anchorwoman who knew Trump—what happened, she took both my hands in hers and said, “Tell no one. Forget it! He has 200 lawyers. He’ll bury you.”
I didn’t need to be told to shut up.
I thought no one would believe me. The attack happened in Bergdorf’s lingerie department. Trump wanted to buy a gift for a woman and asked me for advice (“Hey,” he had said as we ran into one another at the 58th Street entrance of the store, “you’re that Advice Lady.”) He had suggested buying lingerie, asked me to try on a body suit, I made jokes about convincing him to put on the bodysuit, and it ended in a violent struggle and rape. Because I was laughing and bantering with him before it happened, I blamed myself for his attack.
I felt guilty. And I had other reasons to shut up: I was born in the Silent Generation. We girls of the Silent Generation (and that’s how we thought of ourselves—“girls”) were taught to laugh it off! To keep our chins up! And that if anything did happen, it was probably our fault—we were being too “flirtatious.” Also, I was terrified Trump would retaliate with his “200 lawyers.” I didn’t have the resources. I didn’t have the money. I didn’t have the guts. I was the host of the Ask E. Jean TV show at the time. My boss was Roger Ailes. I would have lost my job. The shame would have been unbearable. Accusing Trump would have shattered my reputation, not his.
Then times changed.
Women started coming forward in the weeks before the 2016 election and telling the world how Trump grabbed, groped, pawed, and assaulted them. I admired them, but I was in Indiana. My mother, a Republican politician, was dying. My brother, sisters and I were gathered ‘round her, recalling her glory days, drinking toasts, begging her to eat, and trying to sneak her cat into the hospice.
Can you imagine what would have happened if I accused Trump from Bloomington, Indiana, with my mother on her deathbed? NO WAY would I have smashed-up my mother’s last days on earth.
Then the dam burst with #MeToo, and my long-held beliefs about “laughing it off” were swept away. I saw that staying silent was a mistake, and the only way to change the culture of sexual violence was to speak up. And yet, it still took me two years to get the courage to come forward and accuse Trump.
I was afraid and for good reason: He denied it, and when he dragged me through the mud in the media, I sued him for defamation. That case is ongoing.
So here’s the crux: my experience proves that there are rational reasons why so many women stayed silent for so long. We didn’t think anyone would believe us. We were scared. We were ashamed. We believed it was our fault. We didn’t have the resources to fight back. And many of us have been trained from the cradle to stay silent. Worst, we lived with the constant fear of the assaulter attacking us again, if we spoke up.
By staying silent so long, I lost my chance to hold Trump accountable for raping me. It happened in the mid-1990s. At that time, the Manhattan District Attorney would have had only five years to bring criminal charges against a rapist. The time for me to bring a civil case was even shorter—one year.
These are amazingly tight deadlines given that the number of rapes in New York was then approximately 4,500 per year, with roughly half of them occurring in New York City alone. Please re-read that number because these are just the reported rapes. Want to take a guess at the real number? If you triple it, you’d probably be closer to the truth.
I want a chance to hold my rapist accountable for what he did to me—people know my story, because they know my rapist. But there are thousands of other sexual violence survivors who also want a chance to hold their rapist to account in a court of law.
If you pass the Adult Survivors Act (S66/A648), it will give me, and so many other sexual assault survivors in New York, the chance to hold our attackers responsible! We can stop blaming ourselves and put the blame where it belongs!
With respect, hope and optimism,
E. Jean Carroll
Reader! The Adult Survivor’s Act is coming up for a vote! It will likely pass the New York Senate, as it did last year unanimously; but it still must pass the Assembly in order to become law. If you’re a New Yorker, this means you must pester your Assembly representative. You can find yours here.
Come on! Let’s pull together and make sure that the New York women who have been mauled, grabbed, groped, coerced or violated—and who could not speak up at the time—will get their day in court.
Have you ever stayed silent, and had a very, very good reason for being silent?
Ask E. Jean is room full of brilliant people and when a person in our room has a problem SOMEBODY is gonna have solution!!
Send questions to E.Jean@AskEJean.com and leave a voicemail question at 845-682-0881. Thanks!
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