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Why didn’t E. Jean Carroll scream?

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

This piece is very difficult for me to write, and I could get into a lot of trouble for writing it.


But I’m not afraid of anything so here goes.


The point I want to make in this piece is that all women—those of us who’ve been the victims of rape or attempted rape, plus those of us to whom that’s not happened, not yet anyway—have been in a sense raped and assaulted already, while we were growing up, not by pieces of shit like Trump or Weinstein or your random smelly knife-wielding rapist coming into your elevator as I experienced, but by our own family, grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, uncle Fred and aunt Ida, all the people who raised us from girls to be women, nice women, people-pleasing women, accommodating women, women who were there for others, women who could be relied to put their needs last, women whom you could count on not to raise a fuss.


(This pic is me at roughly the age I was when the guy tried to rape me. All the others pix here are of actual victims in articles about rape, including E. Jean Carroll.)


That was a rape too, an assault, a robbery as well. A taking away—just like in a rape—of our sense of self, our sense of agency, our ability to say no.


What am I talking about? I’m sure you know. Here’s the New York Times for April 27, 2023:


In a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday, a lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump asked E. Jean Carroll, the writer who has accused Mr. Trump of raping her nearly three decades ago, whether she had screamed for help.


“I’m not a screamer,” Ms. Carroll responded, adding that she was in a panic during the encounter in a dressing room. “I was fighting,” she said. “You can’t beat up on me for not screaming.”


Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said he was not doing that, but Ms. Carroll, her voice rising, said from the witness stand that women often keep silent about an attack because they fear being asked what they could have done to stop it. “They are always asked, ‘Why didn’t you scream?’” Ms. Carroll said.


“I’m telling you, he raped me, whether I screamed or not,” she declared.


The highly charged exchange came as Ms. Carroll underwent hours of cross-examination by Mr. Tacopina, who made it clear he was seeking to undermine her testimony about what she says was a vicious attack by Mr. Trump after they ran into each other at the Bergdorf Goodman store on Fifth Avenue in the mid-1990s.


Ms. Carroll did resist in some way. Here’s The Independent for May 2, 2023:


Still uncertain what was happening, Ms Carroll told the court she laughed at the real estate tycoon as a way to defuse the situation.


As the alleged sexual assault continued, Ms Carroll said she was filled with adrenaline as she pushed and kicked back against the much larger man.


Now before you start getting all squinty-eyed and wondering where I’m going here, let me be clear. I’m NOT, not not not, attacking or judging rape victims for not screaming or fighting back.


First of all, and most importantly, not screaming or not fighting back are most certainly NOT evidence that there was no rape. My whole point here—and medical and police experts on sexual crimes against women will testify unanimously to this—is that if victims of these crimes don’t cry out or fight back it's for many, many reasons. And still, the crime DID happen.


Second, people who’ve been through any assault or torture don’t need to have their behavior questioned. None of us know how we’ll behave in any such situation. All of us in that situation need understanding, validation, and help. On our terms.


So nothing that’s said here should be taken as judging Ms. Carroll. Her behavior is not on trial. All she needs or asks for us justice and understanding.


Still, we need—all of us—to understand why she didn’t scream. I can tell you because I’ve been there in the dressing rooms at Bergdorf Goodman that they are a great place to scream, if you want to get people’s attention. You will be heard. People will come running. The scream Ms. Carroll didn’t scream stands in for me for all the times and all the ways women have been in abusive relationships—and for those few terrible minutes Ms. Carroll was in a most abusive relationship!—and somehow didn’t raise a ruckus.


I’m just starting now to work with a woman of around eighty, married to a very wealthy man. For decades she’s been abused by his verbal abuse. At a minimum. I don’t know what else I’ve yet to find out. She’s gotten mad at him, “pushed and kicked back” at him. But never really raised a hue and cry. Never taken herself, her needs, her safety, her peace of mind, her sanctity seriously enough to either get him to stop or get herself to a place where he couldn’t get to her.


I’m as sure as a person from this distance can be that Ms. Carroll was raped by Donald Trump. Scream or no scream. But I’m just as sure that I know what happened to the scream that didn’t happen. It was raped out of her by an entire society bringing her up to be a women who wouldn’t make a fuss, a woman who’d think that to think of yourself was just being selfish.


I weep for all of us who’ve been raped and assaulted. But just as much I weep for all the ways we’ve been trained to surrender ourselves to the people who want to hurt us, to end up as victims on the altar of being able to say, “I’m a people pleaser.”


Never again begins with us now.

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