'She's Not My Type' Is Not a Defense Against Alleged Rape. Trump Is Reinforcing Dangerous Myths | Opinion

One of today's harshest truths is that E. Jean Carroll's claim that Donald Trump violently raped her in a department store changing room in the 1990s is a near-complete nonissue.

Trump has more or less dismissed her allegations the way he has others, by calling her a liar, an opportunist and, by intimation, too unattractive to rape. And, as a people, we have accepted the fact that whether or not the president of the country is serial sexual predator doesn't matter. It doesn't matter enough to spark mass protests, enough to propel a congressional investigation, enough, even, for members of his own party to express passing concern.

In this context, Trump isn't only an accused rapist. He's the rape mythologizer in chief—a leader in the spreading of discriminatory and misleading stereotypes, long-debunked, that shape perceptions of sexual violence. Trump has repeatedly relied on rape myths not only to personally deny allegations of assault but to further his ugly political agenda and stoke his base.

Among the most pervasive rape myths are that rape is "sex gone wrong"; that rapists are usually strangers in high-risk places, like dark alleys; that rapists are more likely to be minorities; and that boys and men can't be raped. Another wide category of rape myths assigns blame to victims. Mythologizers claim women who dress or act in certain ways are "asking for it" and that if the victim did not fight back, then it can't have been a rape.

They also claim victims are usually lying.

When Trump denied Carroll's detailed allegation with a cursory and snide "She's not my type," many Americans were appalled. The implication of what he said seemed clear: What type of woman would he rape?

But many of the president's supporters delighted in his casual dismissal of the allegations, which signaled multiple rape myths (that a particular woman isn't pretty enough to be raped; that rape is about sex; that how a woman looks dictates whether or not she will be raped; and that men of a certain stature don't "need to," and therefore never would, rape).

Mythologizers deny that inequality is a force. Aggressors can grab victims, conflate their frozen acquiesce with consent and call them greedy, ugly liars with a wink and a grin, usually without penalty, because, by allowing rape myths to stand, we empower them.

Rape myths are palliative because they allow society to ignore the brutal truth about rape: that most assaults are perpetrated by men known to their victims, who are overwhelmingly girls and women; that most assaults occur in "safe" and familiar places; and that rape is not a sexual but a violent act wielded by the powerful over the less so. The rape of children by Catholic priests in churches is an example that clearly illustrates abuses of power.

Trump Japan G20
President Donald Trump walks out of the White House on June 26 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Myths enable sexual predators to act with impunity as individuals, but they also generate social and political effects. This becomes particularly evident when the alleged aggressor in question is a president who routinely and strategically employs them.

It isn't even subtle. Trump launched his anti-immigrant movement describing Mexicans as criminals and rapists. He spreads bigoted, anti-Muslim messages, including content referring to Muslims as "rapefugees." His condemnation of the Central Park Five as rapists continues despite profuse evidence of their innocence. He even explained his trade war with China in terms of national sexual defilement. "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country," the president said.

In these uses of rape myths for political gain, Trump is tapping into a powerful history. Estelle Freedman, author of Redefining Rape, has described how rape myths have historically contributed to curbing the rights of women and minorities.

"On a practical level," Freedman explained in a 2016 speech, "the exclusion of women, African Americans and certain immigrants from voting, lawmaking and courtrooms...contributed to the immunities enjoyed by white men when they were accused of harassing or assaulting women of any race. They were the ones making the laws, enforcing the laws and acting as judge, jurors, etc. Constructions of black women as always consenting, white women as duplicitous and black men as constant sexual threats all justified the very limitations on citizenship that reinforced white mens' sexual privileges. The exclusion of those groups made them vulnerable to rape and to rape prosecution."

In his role as rape mythologizer in chief, Trump is preserving the enduring legacy of this white, male supremacist culture, and it's serving him well: Rape myths support his promises to return the country—portrayed by him as weakened by a black president and "nasty," nonconformist women—to its former greatness. They undermine equal rights and are profoundly harmful to democracy.

While it is shocking to read Carroll's account, she is accusing Trump of precisely what he said on tape he revels in doing to women: She says he grabbed her by the genitals and did what he wanted to her, with no penalty.

It didn't stop him from winning the election, and it isn't stopping him now. Trump will continue to callously dismiss women alleging he assaulted them by reciting rape myths. And when we look away, for any reason, we empower him to do it. He will abuse his power, personally and politically, because we live in a society that doesn't take rape or what women say about rape seriously.

Soraya Chemaly, the author of Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger, is an award-winning writer and media activist.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.