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Newsflash: Victim-Blaming Is Not a Winning Strategy

E Jean Carroll smiles, surrounded by reporters and wearing sunglasses, as she leaves a courthouse.

After just over a week in court, and only about two and a half hours of deliberation, a jury has found that Donald Trump sexually abused writer E. Jean Carroll. While this was not a criminal case, the jury found Trump liable for the assault, awarding Carroll $2 million in damages related to the attack, which occurred in the dressing room of a Bergdorf’s luxury store in the 1990s. Additionally, the jury awarded Carroll $3 million in damages for defamation after Trump repeatedly disparaged her for speaking out about the assault.

This is, unequivocally, incredible news. This is a huge win for Carroll and for many others. It’s a win for anyone who has been abused by a powerful figure—including the dozens of other women who’ve said they were assaulted by Trump himself, some of whom were allowed to give their testimony in Carroll’s case, and whom the jury appears to have believed and likely factored into their decision here.

This case is also a huge blow to the very idea of statutes of limitations—a thing that absolutely should not exist in sexual assault cases (or, arguably, any cases). Carroll was only allowed to bring her case against Trump because the state of New York, where the attack took place, passed the Adult Survivors Act, which gave victims of sexual assault a one-year window to file suits that otherwise would have been ineligible due to the statute of limitations on those crimes. It should not matter if a person is willing to speak out, go to the police, or bring charges one day or 50 years after their assault—those are options that should be available to them.

Finally, this verdict was a gigantic middle finger to anyone and everyone who thinks victim-blaming is an acceptable form of retaliation or defense. Trump’s lawyers leaned in hard to a victim-blaming line of defense. They asked Carroll what she was wearing during the attack, why she didn’t scream, why she didn’t go to the police. Because she continued to have a life after the assault and even dare to find some joy in that life, they implied it must not have happened. They tried to make it look like she was benefitting from the publicity of the accusations and the trial.

That was—especially because Trump didn’t even bother to come in and deny the accusations in person—essentially their entire case. And it didn’t work. A jury took two and a half hours to decide that was a BS argument. I’m sure the $5 million is nice (and Carroll certainly deserves it and more) but the importance of that precedent, completely refusing to accept victim blaming and shaming as a legal defense, can not be undercounted.

(featured image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.