An anonymous “Jane Doe” filed a federal lawsuit against GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump last week, accusing him of raping her in 1994 when she was thirteen years old. The mainstream media ignored the filing.
If the Bill Cosby case has taught us anything, it is to not disregard rape cases against famous men. Serious journalists have publicly apologized for turning a blind eye to the Cosby accusers for over a decade, notwithstanding the large number of women who had come forward with credible claims. And now history is repeating itself.
In covering a story, a media outlet is not finding guilt. It is simply reporting the news that a lawsuit has been filed against Mr. Trump, and ideally putting the complaint in context. Unproven allegations are just that - unproven, and should be identified that way. (Mr. Trump’s lawyer says the charges are “categorically untrue, completely fabricated and politically motivated.”) Proof comes later, at trial. But the November election will come well before any trial. And while Mr. Trump is presumed innocent, we are permitted -- no, we are obligated -- to analyze the case’s viability now.
No outsider can say whether Mr. Trump is innocent or guilty of these new rape charges. But we can look at his record, analyze the court filings here, and make a determination as to credibility -- whether the allegations are believable enough for us to take them seriously and investigate them, keeping in mind his denial and reporting new facts as they develop.
I have done that. And the answer is a clear "yes." These allegations are credible. They ought not be ignored. Mainstream media, I’m looking at you.
1. Consider the context: Mr. Trump’s overt, even proud misogyny.
The rape case must be viewed through the lens of Mr. Trump’s current, longstanding and well documented contempt for women. Men who objectify women are more likely to become perpetrators of sexual violence, just as one with a long history of overtly racist comments is more likely to commit a hate crime.
Mr. Trump has relished calling women “dogs,” “slobs” and “pigs,” and cyberstalked and derided journalist Megyn Kelly for having the temerity to ask him to defend his own words. He threw out the most misogynist of attacks, attempting to undermine her professionalism by accusing her of menstruating. He’s cruelly ridiculed the appearance of a female opponent (Carly Fiorina) and an opponent’s wife (Heidi Cruz). His campaign even openly acknowledged that it disqualified all women for consideration as his vice-president.
Mr. Trump has a long history of debasing women he’s worked with, crossing the line on a regular basis. He’s taken lifelong joy in objectifying women, including his proclamation: “Women, you have to treat ‘em like shit.”
This cannot be ignored. Decades of abusive language does not make him a rapist. But it does show us who the man is: a callous, meanspirited misogynist who no sane person would leave alone with her daughter. As Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they really are, believe them.”
2. More context: two prior sexual assault court claims have been made against Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Trump has been accused of worse than just misogynist language. Two prior women have accused Mr. Trump, in court documents, of actual or attempted sexual assault. (Mr. Trump denies all the allegations.)
Under oath, Ivana Trump accused Mr. Trump of a violent rape.
First was Ivana Trump, Donald Trump’s first wife, who said under oath in a 1989 deposition that he had violently attacked her, ripped out her hair and forcibly penetrated her without her consent. According to the Daily Beast, she claims he was wildly angry that she’d referred him to a cosmetic surgeon who had botched a “scalp reduction” job (to cover a bald spot) and caused pain in his scalp - hence the vindictive yanking on her hair. At the time Ms. Trump said she felt “violated” by the alleged “rape.”
A few years later, after their divorce was settled, Ms. Trump claimed that she did not mean the word “rape” in a “literal or criminal” sense.
Note: virtually every settlement of a case involving a high profile person paying money to a former spouse - or anyone - requires the person receiving the money to agree in writing to ironclad nondisparagement and confidentiality. In plain English: you promise to be quiet and not say anything bad about the party paying you money. This has been the case in hundreds of settlement agreements I have worked on over the years. Ms. Trump was almost certainly contractually prohibited after she signed from saying anything negative about Mr. Trump. And it is also common to attempt to “cure” prior negative statements with new agreed-to language - like, I didn’t mean it literally. (You didn’t mean forcible penetration literally?)
A business acquaintance accused Mr. Trump of sexual harassment and “attempted rape.”
A second woman accused Donald Trump of sexual assault, in 1997. According to The Guardian, then 34-year-old Jill Harth alleged in a federal lawsuit that Trump violated her “physical and mental integrity” when he touched her intimately without consent after her husband went into business with him, leaving her “emotionally devastated [and] distraught.” The lawsuit called the multiple acts “attempted rape.” Shortly thereafter she voluntarily withdrew the case when a parallel suit against Mr. Trump brought by her husband was settled. When The Guardian reached the woman in 2016 to ask whether she stood by her sexual assault allegations, she responded, “yes.”
In a court filing, according to a report, Ms. Harth alleged that while she and her husband were trying to do a business deal with Mr. Trump regarding a beauty pageant, he repeatedly propositioned her for sex and groped her, culminating in this frightening alleged incident:
Trump forcefully removed (Harth) from public areas of Mar-A-Lago in Florida and forced (her) into a bedroom belonging to defendant’s daughter Ivanka, wherein (Trump) forcibly kissed, fondled, and restrained (her) from leaving, against (her) will and despite her protests.” In the court document, she said that Trump bragged that he ”would be the best lover you ever have.”
Recently Donald Trump issued a statement that women’s claims of sexual harassment, documented in a lengthy New York Times investigation which included Ms. Harth’s lawsuit, were “made up.”
Jill Harth responded angrily on Twitter last week: “My part was true. I didn’t talk. As usual you opened your big mouth.”
In other words, she is standing by her story.
3. The new Jane Doe child rape claim against Mr. Trump is consistent with verifiable facts about Mr. Trump and his friend Jeffrey Epstein, and has a powerful witness statement attached to it.
A third woman accused Mr. Trump of rape very recently. According to the Daily Mail, a woman filed an April 2016 lawsuit claiming that when she was thirteen years old she was held as a sex slave to Mr. Trump and his friend Jeffrey Epstein. The woman claimed to have a witness, “Tiffany Doe,” to the incidents. She filed the case in pro per, that is, without the assistance of a lawyer.
The case was dismissed by the court for technical filing errors. She then obtained a lawyer and the case was modified and refiled in New York federal court, against Mr. Trump and Mr. Epstein.
I’ve carefully reviewed this federal complaint. It is now much stronger than the one she filed on her own, which makes sense because she now has an experienced litigator representing her. Jane Doe says that as a 13-year-old, she was enticed to attend parties at the home of Jeffrey Epstein with the promise of money modeling jobs. Mr. Epstein is a notorious “billionaire pedophile” who is now a Level 3 registered sex offender -- the most dangerous kind, “a threat to public safety” -- after being convicted of misconduct with another underage girl.
Jane Doe says that Mr. Trump “initiated sexual contact” with her on four occasions in 1994. Since she was thirteen at the time, consent is not an issue. If Mr. Trump had any type of sexual contact with her in 1994, it was a crime.
On the fourth incident, she says Mr. Trump tied her to a bed and forcibly raped her, in a “savage sexual attack,” while she pleaded with him to stop. She says Mr. Trump violently struck her in the face. She says that afterward, if she ever revealed what he had done, Mr. Trump threatened that she and her family would be “physically harmed if not killed.” She says she has been in fear of him ever since.
New York’s five year statute of limitations on this claim -- the legal deadline for filing -- has long since run. However, Jane Doe’s attorney, Thomas Meagher, argues in his court filing that because she was threatened by Mr. Trump, she has been under duress all this time, and therefore she should be permitted additional time to come forward. Legally, this is calling “tolling” -- stopping the clock, allowing more time to file the case. As a result, the complaint alleges, Jane Doe did not have “freedom of will to institute suit earlier in time.” He cites two New York cases which I have read and which do support tolling
Two unusual documents are attached to Jane Doe’s complaints -- sworn declarations attesting to the facts. The first is from Jane Doe herself, telling her horrific story, including the allegation that Jeffrey Epstein also raped her and threatened her into silence, and this stunner:
Defendant Epstein then attempted to strike me about the head with his closed fists while he angrily screamed at me that he, Defendant Epstein, should have been the one who took my virginity, not Defendant Trump . . .
And this one:
Defendant Trump stated that I shouldn’t ever say anything if I didn’t want to disappear like Maria, a 12-year-old female that was forced to be involved in the third incident with Defendant Trump and that I had not seen since that third incident, and that he was capable of having my whole family killed.
The second declaration is even more astonishing, because it is signed by “Tiffany Doe,” Mr. Epstein’s “party planner” from 1991-2000. Tiffany Doe says that her duties were “to get attractive adolescent women to attend these parties.” (Adolescents are, legally, children.
Tiffany Doe says that she recruited Jane Doe at the Port Authority in New York, persuaded her to attend Mr. Epstein’s parties, and actually witnessed the sexual assaults on Jane Doe:
I personally witnessed the Plaintiff being forced to perform various sexual acts with Donald J. Trump and Mr. Epstein. Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Epstein were advised that she was 13 years old.
It is exceedingly rare for a sexual assault victim to have a witness. But Tiffany Doe says:
I personally witnessed four sexual encounters that the Plaintiff was forced to have with Mr. Trump during this period, including the fourth of these encounters where Mr. Trump forcibly raped her despite her pleas to stop.
Tiffany Doe corroborates, based on her own personal observations, just about everything in Jane Doe’s complaint: that 12-year-old Maria was involved in a sex act with Mr. Trump, that Mr. Trump threatened the life of Jane Doe if she ever revealed what happened, and that she would “disappear” like Maria if she did.
Tiffany Doe herself says that she is in mortal fear of Mr. Trump to this day:
I am coming forward to swear to the truthfulness of the physical and sexual abuse that I personally witnessed of minor females at the hands of Mr. Trump and Mr. Epstein . . . I swear to these facts under the penalty for perjury even though I fully understand that the life of myself and my family is now in grave danger.
Given all this, and based on the record thus far, Jane Doe’s claims appear credible. Mr. Epstein’s own sexual crimes and parties with underage girls are well documented, as is Mr. Trump’s relationship with him two decades ago in New York City. Mr. Trump told a reporter a few years ago: “I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life."
Powerfully, Jane Doe appears to have an eyewitness to all aspects of her claim, a witness who appears to have put herself in substantial danger by coming forward, because at a minimum Mr. Epstein knows her true identity.
Jane Doe has not granted any interviews, and we don’t know anything about her background, or Tiffany Doe’s, or the details of their stories. Much information needs to be revealed to fully assess this case. Perhaps they will be discredited on cross-examination. Perhaps they will recant. But if we’re going to speculate in that direction, we should speculate in the other direction as well. Perhaps Jane Doe and her lawyer will have more evidence and witnesses to corroborate her claim. Perhaps witnesses from Mr. Epstein’s notorious parties will come forward. We just can’t know any of that at this point.
But based on what we do know now, Jane Doe’s claims fall squarely into the long, ugly context of Mr. Trump’s life of misogyny, are consistent with prior sexual misconduct claims, are backed up by an eyewitness, and thus should be taken seriously. Her claims merit sober consideration and investigation.
We live in a world where wealthy, powerful men often use and abuse women and girls. While these allegations may shock some, as a lawyer who represents women in sexual abuse cases every day, I can tell you that sadly, they are common, as is an accuser’s desire to remain anonymous, and her terror in coming forward.
What do you call a nation that refuses to even look at sexual assault claims against a man seeking to lead the free world?
We ignore the voices of women at our peril.
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