E. Jean Carroll arrives at the courthouse to testify in her civil rape lawsuit against Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s Lawyer Really Thought Victim-Blaming Was the Best Way To Go in E. Jean Carroll Suit

Who exactly is on trial here?

Why didn’t she scream? Why didn’t she call 911 instead of her friend? What about those four-inch heels she was wearing? The questions former President Donald J. Trump’s lawyer hurled at E. Jean Carroll in the first few days of her civil rape lawsuit against him were as offensive as they were familiar.

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Carroll, a writer and former advice columnist for Elle who first came forward with her story in 2019, has accused Trump of raping her in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman in the mid-1990s. She is now suing him for battery and defamation under a New York law that temporarily removes the statute of limitations for adult victims.

Taking the stand during the first several days of the trial, which began on April 25, Carroll testified about the details of how the alleged encounter escalated from flirtatious banter to violent assault, as well as decades of trauma that followed. She explained her reluctance at the time to accuse a powerful man who could likely destroy her and the reasons she changed her mind—inspired by a cultural movement of women who were coming forward to challenge their attackers.

“When that happened, across the country women began telling their stories, and I was flummoxed … wait a minute, can we actually speak up and not be pummeled?” Carroll testified. “I thought, well this may be a way to change the culture of sexual violence. The light dawned. I thought, we can actually change things if we all tell our stories. And I thought by god, this may be the time.”

Unfortunately, victims of sexual violence have not yet reached a point where they can speak up without fear of consequences, as Carroll has experienced ever since she added her story to the dozens of similar accusations made by other women against Trump.

While cross-examining Carroll, Trump attorney Joe Tacopina went after her credibility and motives, throwing every seedy rape defense strategy in the book at her. He accused her of making up a story for attention and money, even though Carroll lost her job as an advice columnist at Elle and much of the attention she has received has been in the form of insults from internet trolls, including the former president, and threats to her safety.

Although Carroll’s account was detailed and consistent, Tacopina zeroed in on what she didn’t recall, including the precise date the alleged assault happened decades ago and the fact that she didn’t remember seeing or interacting with anyone else in the store that day.

And while she says she fought back and freed herself, he wanted to know why she didn’t scream.

A scream would have been an understandable response to this line of questioning, but as Carroll explained, she is simply not a screamer. Instead, she responded with poise and clarity, standing up for not just herself but for all victims who have been attacked for not reacting to their own rapes in the “right” way. Her testimony led twitter users to post about their own experiences with the hashtag #IDidntScream.

“One of the reasons women don’t come forward is because they’re always asked, ‘Why didn’t you scream?’” Carroll testified, as reported by Washington Post reporters inside the courtroom. “Some women scream; some women don’t. It keeps women silent.” She then raised her voice to add, “He raped me whether I screamed or not.”

(screengrab, CBS News)

In her column “Why Didn’t She Scream? And Other Questions Not to Ask a Rape Accuser,” New York Times editor Jessica Bennett described the disturbingly long history of re-victimizing victims with such lines of questioning—dating back to the case of a 17-year-old seamstress who was raped in 1793. The defense in that case relied on a series of tests that were meant to decide whether the accuser was credible: Did she have a good reputation? Did she call out for help? Did she have injuries from the attack? Did she report the crime right away?

The way victims of sexual assault are questioned has apparently not changed much in more than two centuries. Does anyone truly wonder why Carroll or anyone else hesitates to report?

“We don’t ask victims of other violent crimes if they screamed out—to the contrary, not screaming is considered a way to not further provoke,” Bennett wrote. “Why then, when it comes to victims of sexual violence, are those tropes so baked in?

U.S. Judge Lewis Kaplan seemed as annoyed with Tacopina’s hackneyed antics as anyone, repeatedly scolding him for being argumentative and repetitive. The judge’s rebukes were so harsh that Trump’s lawyer filed a Hail Mary mistrial motion first thing Monday morning, complaining that the judge had made “pervasive unfair and prejudicial rulings” and asking for more leeway in his cross-examination of Carroll. Kaplan wasted no time denying the ridiculous request that he overrule himself.

Tacopina continued to cross-examine Carroll on Monday, wearing on all of our patience. Still to come, the jury will also hear from two more women who have made similar accusations against Trump. If these past few days/centuries have been any indication, the defense will try to paint them as attention-seeking liars whose skirts were probably too short, as well. Let’s hope the jury is as tired of that tactic as we are.

(featured image: screengrab, MSNBC)


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Author
Erika Wittekind
Erika Wittekind (she/her) is a contributing writer covering politics and news and has two decades of experience in local news reporting, freelance writing, and nonfiction editing. Hobbies and special interests include hiking, dancing in the kitchen, trying to raise empathetic teen boys, and keeping plants alive. Find her on Mastodon at @erikalyn.newsie.social.