Friday, December 2, 2016

Trump’s Double Assault on Women of Color (Dr. Deirdre M. Bowen and Dylan Johnson)

Donald Trump’s reality TV-style campaign ushered in permission to “see” and confront race again. As bad as the “post-race” claims were with the election of Obama, the new era of confrontational identity politics will be far worse—and particularly for women of color. Women of color face an ever-increasing threat of overt racism in their daily lives with the onset of a Klu Klux Klan endorsed president-elect and the cultural shift his campaign laid bare. But the ramifications of the policies he promises to enact will create far-reaching damage to the health and safety of women of color. Indeed, the fear Trump created for women of color is evident in the way that they voted. Only 6% for him.

Trump’s cultural revolution dismantled the last shreds of civil discourse to be sure. It has also emboldened a certain segment of the population. It is the segment that never engaged in subconscious or implicit bias, but rather sequestered its overt racism to the back rooms where like-minded individuals gathered. Now, Trump’s rhetoric creates a license to bring this racism to the forefront of American life. Reports of hate crimes increased significantly after the election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But what about sexual assault? Where is the data tracking the increases in sexual assault? You will not see it. You will not see this data because when the president-elect openly brags about assaulting women, and in turn, others normalize his speech as “locker room talk,” it has a chilling effect. Reporting a sexual assault of one’s body has always been fraught. The cost of reporting such crimes includes the currency of blame and judgment. And this currency gets traded generously on the stereotypes of women of color. Women of color are much more likely to internalize these stereotypes of promiscuity and blame themselves. Whites, too, are much more likely to blame the victim when the victim is a minority woman. Never mind that minority women are already disproportionately attacked and experience police reporting differently from Whites.

By: Deirdre M. Bowen, J.D., Ph. D. (Associate Professor of Law, Seattle University School of Law) and Dylan Johnson

--This blog is part of an online symposium hosted by the Race and the Law Profs Blog examining the implications of a Trump administration on women, racial, religious, and ethnic minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, disabled persons, and other historically subordinated groups. 

The chilling effect, however, becomes an all out freeze effect when one considers the policy message Trump sent with the nomination of Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice. Senator Sessions’ remarks could hardly be shrugged off as locker room talk. When asked if the grabbing of women’s genitalia constituted sexual assault, Sessions observed that it was not clear how it could be. Thus, when the nation’s potential lead prosecutor does not view such action as assault, it is difficult to imagine how women, but particularly women of color, would calculate a cost-benefit analysis in which reporting sexual assault would inure a single advantage. It sends an advantageous message to the perpetrator, however. He is likely to get a free pass under this administration. In fact, Fox news reports that college campus groups representing men accused of sexual assault are hopeful that a Trump administration will role back the Obama administration policies on sexual assault prevention and response on college campuses.

One need look no further than the effect of a federal loop hole that does not allow native American tribal courts jurisdiction over non-native criminals. Native American women who live on reservations are two and half times as likely to encounter sexual assault particularly by white men. Why? Because these perpetrators are never prosecuted. With Trump and Sessions in power, a machismo cultural shift has occurred in which men are free to assert themselves over women with impunity. Trump bragged repeatedly of the ways in which he viewed women as objects to be used. And what has become of these woman who came forward? They arrived in time for guest appearances in the reality TV style campaign season only to disappear when the “show” ended. What message does the media send when no follow up on the consequences of Trump’s actions appear forthcoming.

The dehumanization of women certainly did not begin with Trump, but it has taken on new life with his rhetoric and choice of Attorney General. The cultural backlash against women cannot be dismissed as mere “locker room talk.” The consequences are real for women. And the burden will disproportionately be borne by women of color. The question remains whether this backlash is a last gasp of a cohort of men watching their position of power give way to hierarchy inclusive of women and people of color or a retrenchment that promises to survive for generations?

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