OUR VIEW: Sexual assault victims deserve respect

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The U.S. presidential election is a national matter, and so not one we would ordinarily use this space to discuss.

But the most recent controversy generated by the history and comments of candidate Donald Trump begs context and consideration. The issues presented, the response to them from the candidate and his supporters as well his detractors, are of vital interest to every person living in our region, and we would be guilty of the worst type of journalistic neglect if we ignored it at this point.

The conversation Donald Trump took part in on a bus headed for a guest appearance on a television show, centering on his conquests and near-conquests of women, has taken a central role in discussions of the presidential campaign. Several points need to be made, in the form of factual statements.

The conversation was private. There is no reason to believe Trump knew he was being recorded. In that sense the comments – no matter how lewd or ill-advised – were not of a public nature. They were made before, to anyone’s knowledge, he entertained the potential of seeking the presidency or any other office.

This private conversation was, nonetheless, deplorable. The objectification of women and specific offensive words that were used are indicative of a mindset many Americans would find unacceptable for someone seeking such an office. Trump’s shallow and transparent apology cannot undo this.

What speaks louder than Trump’s voice in this regard is his insistence on trivializing the matter, and the insistence of his strongest supporters who do the same. No amount of finger-pointing at Bill Clinton and his shameless exploits regarding women can undo the responsibility Trump must take for his bro-movie, frat-boy mentality.

But then, public acceptance of Trump’s words and actions – or lack thereof – should come as no surprise. We are a society that has long elevated the very culture from which Trump’s rude, misogynistic rantings were born. We made a star out of Seth Rogen. We made a hero of Hugh Hefner. We have as a society for too long brushed off chauvinistic behavior with a wink and a knowing smile while uttering “boys will be boys.”

None of us is perfect. But it is how we approach disclosures of our imperfections that makes the difference. The person who dismisses past misdeeds with a simple “that was a long time ago” or points to the foibles of others has sinned doubly.

But now there is a new wrinkle, which makes for a third problem in this respect.

Trump’s words revealed an underlying disrespect for women, bolstered by his dismissal of the criticism with a half-hearted apology and no further explanation. But then came the disrespect shown to the women who stepped forward, after his affirmative statement that he had never touched a woman against her will or without her permission, who stated that the opposite had happened. No, they did not speak up then, as so many women do not speak up today. The cost of doing so would have been too great. Even now, years later, there is a cost.

And there is a price.

Trump’s rude treatment of the women who came forward, and the willingness of so many people to accept his words of denial and questioning of these victims, echoes everywhere. The message for all victims of sexual assault, no matter their gender, is that silence is indeed golden. If you speak out, don’t plan to be believed. And that can have serious consequences, right here and right now, today and tomorrow.

We cannot decide for voters how much they should weigh character at the polls, nor the types of character flaws they may find important in weighing. Yes, Hillary Clinton has faults and so does her husband. That can’t be denied.

But what we wish to address here is a character issue whose acceptance is a threat to every future victim of sexual assault. Despite the circus that you see spilling all over newscasts, news pages and your smart phone screen, know that there are people who will believe you and will take you seriously. Know that not everyone will meet your allegations with scorn. Know that this belief starts right here with this newspaper. Know that we will always give you a fair hearing, and a fair opportunity to present your story without judgement. We are here for you, even if a potential future President of the United States and his supporters choose not to be.