Less than three weeks before Election Day, the 2016 campaign is focused on an unusual, emotional, and highly politicized topic for a presidential race: sexual assault, reports the Washington Post. Republican Donald Trump and his surrogates have denied allegations that the candidate sexually assaulted nine women, casting doubts on their credibility, asserting their allegations are lies and, in Trump’s case, mocking their looks. Trump and his allies have bolstered the stories of women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual improprieties, castigating the news media for not believing them.
Much of the debate has been shaped by cultural shifts that have dissipated the stigma of sexual assault and shifted public sympathy toward survivors, said Scott Berkowitz of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. “It’s certainly become a much bigger part of the election than we ever anticipated,” he said. “It’s a positive that the country’s talking about this issue and acknowledging it and that we’re not pretending it doesn’t exist, but certainly it’s disheartening at the same time.” The debate has been painful for victims of sexual assault, who now must endure nonstop coverage of allegations of groping and kissing without consent. Many fear that brushing off such allegations, as Trump and his backers have done, minimizes the fact that it is a pervasive problem that affects millions of women and men. “Personally it’s been really challenging to have our country talking about an issue that touches me so deeply and personally,” said Nikki Fortunato Bas, who attended a rally of sexual assault survivors at Trump Tower in New York City yesterday. Recent events have been a breaking point, she said, that led her to publicly say she had been assaulted.