Donald Trump has publicly mocked Dr Christine Blasey Ford‘s account of her sexual assault. This is a video that should not be forgotten quickly. Speaking at a rally in Mississippi on Sunday night, Trump uses five psychologically manipulative tactics in under a minute to discount the survivor’s trauma. He provides a textbook performance of how survivors (and women) are undermined and discredited by men, and how potently effective that can be, coming from a man in a position of power. Here we unpack five tactics used to discredit women, all illustrated just for us by none other than the President of the United States. What a terrifying time to be alive.
Victim-blaming is when someone argues or implies that the victim/survivor is at fault for the harm inflicted on them. Common examples include people blaming sexual assault on what a woman was wearing, her level of intoxication, her mannerisms, the time she was out, and all manner of things other than the offender.
Trumps repeats the sentence, ‘I had one beer… But I had one beer, that’s the only thing I remember’ in his imitation of the survivor’s recollection. This harmful tactic seeks to place the blame on Dr Blasey having had a drink and not on the person who assaulted her.
Gaslighting is a psychological tactic used by abusers to make their victims doubt their memory, question their lived reality and believe they were imagining the abuse. A common example of this, used by President Trump here, is the questioning of details the victims may not remember and then using this to cast doubt on the incident.
‘How did you get home? I don’t remember.’
‘How did you get there? I don’t remember.’
‘Where is the place? I don’t remember.’
‘How many years ago was it? I don’t know.’
‘What neighbourhood was it in? I don’t know.’
‘Where’s the house? I don’t know.’
‘Which street was it? I don’t know.’
According to President Trump’s gaslighting, the implication is that if some aspects of the story are hard to recall, then the victim must have imagined the assault.
President Trump imitates Dr Blasey’s voice, her words and her answers. In so doing, he turns her into a caricature and her trauma into a satire. He repeats the words ‘I don’t know, I don’t know’, impersonating her and mocking her struggle to recount her trauma. By enacting the recollection with the intention of dismissing it, he seeks to make her look like a fool. This is an intimidation tactic used by abusers to make their victims feel small, which the president has clearly perfected.
President Trump’s tone is glib and mocking. To address sexual assault in any way other than seriously and sensitively, conveys that the harm was not significant. It discounts the gravity of the experience, and the agency of the person telling the story. The tone is similar to one you would use with a child or someone that is not an equal – it diminishes her personhood. The sentiment resounding in Trump’s tone is look at this confused woman – there’s no way we can take her seriously.
The end of his vile rant went like this: ‘A man’s life is in tatters. A man’s life is shattered’. This does a few things: It sweeps his crime to the periphery, it eliminates his accountability, and it de-centres her trauma. The perpetrator’s life is being inconvenienced by his OWN crime – President Trump makes the man the main focus and manages to pin it on the victim.
Never discount the power of words in perpetuating abuse. This video reveals the president of the USA disgracing his office and his country. It captures a particularly low point in American history for women and rape culture.