The XX Factor

A Conversation Between an OB-GYN and Her Trump-Supporting Father About Sexual Assault

Donald Trump in New York City in 2005, the year of the leaked Access Hollywood video in which he bragged about sexual assault.

Brad Barket/Getty Images

When I was 10 years old, a grown man reached between my legs and squeezed. I was at a local toy store. My father was in the next aisle and heard me scream. The man got away, but the memory of this event has stayed with me ever since. It happened again when I was 30. This time I was standing in an elevator at work, wearing my doctor’s white coat. A man reached between my legs from behind and squeezed. I reported him to HR, and he spun the story, saying I had molested him.

These memories lie dormant for most of the time, tucked away in a place I choose consciously not to acknowledge. But the Taser I own, the keys I keep clutched between my knuckles when walking alone, and the fear I feel for my own daughter are testaments to how you can never truly erase this kind of violation.

Since the video surfaced on Friday of Donald Trump’s awful comments about women, I’ve had a hard time containing these memories. And despite a pact with my Trump-supporting father not to talk politics, I reached out and pleaded with him not to vote for a man who could so casually brag about sexual assault and, in so doing, encourage the kind of behavior that has left me feeling violated and scared. (I’ve fixed a few typos in the below exchanges.)

Hi my papa,

I know the economy is a huge issue and something you care about very much. But I’m assuming you watched the video released yesterday where Trump said heinous things about women, including “You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.”

When I was 10 years old, a man put his hands between my legs and squeezed. You remember, you were there and tried to help catch him. I’m 33 now and I still think about this often/feel violated and scared whenever I walk alone by strange men. You may say, some men are bad people and that what Trump said was just normal guy talk and he didn’t mean it, but words matter. This is the proposed leader of our country and most powerful man in the world. I beg you not to vote for a man that encourages the kind of talk or behavior that made me so scared as a little girl and that still makes me sick to my stomach today. Please.

My father’s response:

What he said was typical bravado between guys in a private conversation 10 years ago not physical action and not uncommon among males… I don’t believe it is any way as bad as what Bill did during his presidency and you want him and his lying wife back at the helm.  No way, I will take vulgarity over someone who failed to help our people in Benghazi and sold weapons to ISIS… And to top it off we are now $20 trillion in debt. Come on, how long do you think it will before we have a major meltdown economically?

I wrote back:

Then don’t vote. If your hate her don’t vote for her but don’t vote for him. It’s not typical bravado talk. It’s the kind of talk that leads to people violating your daughter.

He replied:

I’m sorry to say what Trump said does not hold a candle to the things I have heard. It’s a poor world that believes a moment of vulgarity results in action. For me it’s just more left PC crap. Re: association with those horrible events you mentioned, I would never vote for someone that had or tried to commit such an act on any woman.

I share this exchange not to put my father in a bad light, but rather to tell a story about how many Americans interpret Trump’s misogyny. My father is a well-educated, loving man who would do anything for his family, except maybe look beyond what is staring us in the face as a nation: that women don’t matter as much as men.

As an OB-GYN physician, I’ve heard an alarming number of personal stories similar to mine, and so much worse. Women are molested, raped, and violated all. the. time. Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network estimates that 1 in every 6 American women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. The prevalence of child sexual abuse is harder to define, because these events often go unreported.

It’s possible, though not likely, that Trump’s remarks will be old hat by later this week. But these kinds of events don’t go away. They stay with their victim for the rest of their life. They sneak to the surface and masquerade as things such as chronic pelvic pain, painful intercourse, stomach upset, depression, anxiety. They can befuddle a woman’s mental and physical health to the point of isolation and lifelong suffering. Sexual assault is a major health concern and one that we don’t acknowledge enough.

It’s easy to say that Trump’s comments are typical male banter, but words like his encourage a society that turns its back on sexual assault and devalues women. Words like his perpetuate a culture of silence and passivity. And my conversation with my father has convinced me that even many people who have witnessed sexual assault firsthand believe so strongly in Trump’s phony message of change that they will overlook his avalanche of misogyny and hate.

Recently I was about to appear on a public radio station to discuss women’s health issues. “Don’t say anything controversial,” my father told me.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.