Trump’s arrival at the White House did not inspire much hope for women’s rights activists, and unfortunately, his administration has not done much to change that.
In one year, he has revoked the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order and pro-choice policies, reinstated the Global Gag Rule, eliminated the Office of Global Women’s Issues and rescinded the Title IX guidance, among other things.
Should we be surprised? Probably not, given that the president has always degraded women and categorized them into two camps: “first-rate pussy” or “fat” and “ugly.” More to the point, we’ve always let him.
He’s gone out of his way to surround himself with like-minded men, and unashamedly endorsed alleged child molesters and those accused of sexual harassment. So, once again, should we be surprised that policies protecting women have been weakened or eliminated altogether?
In part, yes — at least at the aggressiveness, precision and flagrancy of his assault on the women in his country and around the world. His most recent attack on the push toward true gender equality is the change to the definition of sexual assault.
What is the change?
Under the former definition, sexual assault was considered to be any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without consent of the recipient. The sexual activities included under sexual assault were forced sexual intercourse, child molestation, incest, attempted rape, fondling and forcible sodomy.
Under the new definition, sexual assault means a nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by tribal, federal or state law, including on the occasion where the victim lacks capacity to consent.
The serious issue here is that most state laws are far less stringent than the old definition of sexual assault, and according to RAINN’s database, there are only eight states that require affirmative or freely given consent.
What does this mean for victims of sexual assault?
Repercussions depend on what the state views as sexual assault and how the judicial system enforces the law.
Obvious concerns are that states with weak laws will allow sexual assaults to go unpunished and victims to go without justice, and perhaps even forced into a more vulnerable position to further attacks. Statutory rape and marital rape are only two examples of this.
- Statutory Rape: According to loopholes in certain state laws, sexual assault is all but invited. In fact, 25 states do not set a minimum age for when someone can marry, and eight others set it at an age under 16. In states such as Alaska and North Carolina, a 14 year old can get married, whereas in New Hampshire, a 13-year-old girl can get married and a 14-year-old boy can marry.
While a judge’s approval is needed to permit the marriage of minors, this rarely happens in a court system, and pregnancy is often the only reason necessary to permit such a marriage. The changing definition of sexual assault, deferring it to a state-level matter, could allow these loopholes to widen and statutory rape to go unpunished even more regularly.
- Marital Rape: Marital rape has been illegal across the U.S. since 1993, but 13 states still make exceptions for it. In Connecticut, only husbands or wives raped by use of force can bring charges, making no case for victims who are drugged. In Iowa, marital rape is not outlawed if the wife is as young as 12.
In Virginia, men who rape wives can simply undergo a bout of therapy to be exempted from prosecution, and in South Carolina, victims of marital rape only have 30 days to report it. The list goes on and on.
It’s not a surprise that Trump’s obvious bias against women should go beyond attacking abortion rights, aid to women in developing countries and closing the gender gap. What is especially concerning is through the administration’s unprecedented changing of the definition of sexual assault, we’re exposing the most vulnerable in our society to even less justice, support and protection.