Darlena Cunha is a contributor to TIME
“Just words.” That was one of Donald Trump’s myriad of defenses during the second presidential debate about the leaked tape from 2005 that recorded him telling Billy Bush, formerly of Access Hollywood, about how he can’t stop himself from groping and kissing women without asking and how he tried to “f-ck” a married woman.
But the self-described “locker room” talk isn’t just “words” to 51% of America’s population and the majority of America’s voters. About 1 in 5 women experiences sexual assault in their lives in the U.S., according to one estimate. Because too many think that words like “grab them by the p-ssy” are acceptable, actions that emulate them follow. And women are the victims.
In the wake of the video release, best-selling author Kelly Oxford tweeted a request to her more than 700,000 followers. “Women: tweet me your first assaults. They aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: old man on city bus grabs my ‘p-ssy’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.”
Within minutes, Oxford’s feed was overrun with stories, and they’re still pouring in. And those are only the women who are brave enough to share their stories with the world. I know I’m not that brave. And, yes, I have a story. In fact, I have eight stories. I’m guessing one of the most overlooked part of Oxford’s request is this: “first assaults.” Oxford, like most women, knows there is more than one. Too many women have suffered a dozen times over from damage by the hands of men conditioned by “locker-room talk.”
Trump tried to downplay his words several times over, consistently maintaining that “no one has more respect for women” than he does. Given the Howard Stern recordings, the Miss America allegations of Trump kissing her on the mouth, the rape accusations, and the verifiable, recorded instances of Trump disparaging women over their looks, race, weight and more, if that sentence is true, the country is in horrible shape.
They’re not just words. They normalize actions that harm us. Oxford received upwards of 50 tweets a minute from women sharing their stories. This is our reality.
Women demand more respect than being addressed as the worth of our parts to a man.
And yet, despite being “the single most talked about story of the entire 2016 election on Facebook with millions of people discussing it,” according to debate moderator Martha Raddatz, the tape took up only the first few minutes of the debate, with Trump deflecting to ISIS in his replies: “Yes, I’m very embarrassed by it. I hate it. But it’s locker-room talk and it’s one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS, we’re going to defeat ISIS.”
This deflection tactic is see-through and weak. It’s a fallacy. We can defeat ISIS and also not assault women.
Toward the end of the short segment dedicated to Trump’s tape, he said, “We can get on to much more important things, much bigger things.”
To some of us, the important things are on that tape. And we’re tired of being thrown under a bus full of locker-room talk.