Trump held a surprise press conference before Sunday night’s debate, with Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick, who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault, and Kathy Shelton, who was 12 years old when Hillary Clinton defended the man who raped her. (Photo: AP Images)
Before the second presidential debate on Oct. 9, Republican nominee Donald Trump called in the traveling press corps for a press conference on his “debate prep.” What reporters were met with, however, was not the opportunity to ask the candidate any questions — including any about the 2005 Access Hollywood tape reported on Friday evening by the Washington Post in which Trump describes and brags to the show’s co-host at the time, Billy Bush, about having committed sexual assault — but rather a gambit straight out of the annals of Trump’s reality television roots.
Just over an hour before the second debate was scheduled to begin, Trump had several of the women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual assault seated alongside him to recount their allegations.
Traveling press pool was told that the photo-op would be Trump conducting debate prep. Turned out to be a photo-op with Clinton accusers.
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb)
It was a bold move, no matter your political orientation or opinions. And it was also one perhaps targeted at the millennial activists who have been redefining the national discourse around sexual assault and the true meaning of consent, those young enough to have missed out on the allegations against Presient Clinton in the early ’90s but who lead the conversation on believing survivors today.
As Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, said in a tongue-in-cheek tweet, “I can’t think of a better way to appeal to college-educated women than Trump’s ‘debate prep.’”
And others on Twitter seemed to agree that the move, albeit dramatic, was ineffective and tone-deaf at best:
— Sheila Katz (@SheilaKatz1)
Using women as a human shields instead of being accountable for your words & actions just affirms that you think women are objects. #debate
— Farrah Khan (@farrah_khan)
So….this is #Trump’s version of a damn debate prep? If these women were victims…parading them around for politics is DISGUSTING!
— Amber J. Younger (@AJ_Ski_Bum)
Trump has mocked these women. Belittled their looks. He’s said Paula Jones should have “run faster."He’s their champion? #debate
— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner)
We spoke with a number of such millennial activists, all members of Planned Parenthood’s national Youth Leadership and Advocacy Council, to see exactly what they thought of this act of political theater — and it seems they were less than impressed and hardly thought that such a move in any way dampened the violent nature of the comments made by him on the leaked tape.
“One in five women in the United States will get sexually assaulted, and it is in part because of the way in which we talk about sexual assault,” says Sadie Hernandez, a student at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, tells Yahoo Beauty via email. “Luckily, millennials are more educated on the importance of consent than Trump and men like him. … There’s work to do, and millennials aren’t afraid to organize. We’ve been working on changing the way we view and support victims of sexual assault and those who perpetuate it. These comments just fuel our momentum to change and challenge our society and get sexual assault apologists out of office.”
Yoooo people are listening to Trump’s response like "yeah obviously me sexually assaulting someone isn’t as bad as murder overseas” #debate
— sadie (@sadieeehdz)
Gabe Linderman, a student at Ohio Wesleyan University, tells Yahoo Beauty by email, “Donald Trump’s decision to use sexual assault survivors as political pawns is wildly unempathetic. Not only is his decision a poor political move, but it invalidates the experiences of the one in five women that will be sexually assaulted in their lives.”
Despite whatever Trump is saying during this #debate it is unforgivable that he is trying to use sexual assault survivors as political pawns
— Gabe Linderman (@gabelinderman)
Echoes Caroline Rexrode, a student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., shared via email with Yahoo Beauty, “I know I am not the only young American who has been forced into an uncomfortable sexual situation by a man who sees me as less than human. I am also certain I am not the only one who relived that experience upon hearing Donald Trump’s description of the sexual assault he committed. It is impossible to imagine a positive future for myself or any victim of sexual assault in a nation where our president openly condones rape while simultaneously abusing the name of a sexual assault survivor to further his political campaign.”
And Leah Weisgal, a student at Westminster College in Utah, told Yahoo Beauty by email, “Growing up in New York City, I was barely a teenager the first time a grown man grabbed my genitals in public. It didn’t feel like locker-room banter then. To hear a man deflect his own words condoning such behavior by using victims of a man who isn’t even himself running for president makes me sick.”