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President Donald Trump

The Trump Effect, Part 2

How misogynistic behavior at the top can affect a nation.

Michael Vadon/Wikimeda Commons
Source: Michael Vadon/Wikimeda Commons

You are likely aware that Roger Ailes, former chairman and CEO of Fox News Channel, resigned last summer following allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues. (He promptly joined the Trump campaign as an advisor.) Last week, Bill O’Reilly was sacked from the same outlet for the same reason — sexual harassment of other female coworkers — but not before more than $13 million was paid by both Fox News and O’Reilly to settle cases and keep the accusers quiet. (Do note that O'Reilly left the NY Fox News building pocketing $25 million in severance pay.)

Donald Trump came to the defense of both Ailes and O’Reilly; they are all buddies, or at least they used to be. And they share many things in common — wealth, prestige, the low self-esteem/huge ego paradox, and throughout the years, a glut of accusations of sexual misconduct by multiple women for their disgusting behavior.

We may have thought The Old Boys Club atmosphere of the 1950s and 60s had dissipated. But given the above, it obviously hasn’t. And, across our nation, like the boost that bullying, as well as racial and religious discrimination, have experienced (see The Trump Effect Part 1: How one man’s behavior affects a nation) since Trump announced his candidacy, so have sexual harassment and assault.

The irony of President Trump proclaiming April National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month was not lost on his accusers or a large swath of women and concerned men throughout our nation. In a White House statement, he said, “We dedicate each April to raising awareness about sexual abuse and recommitting ourselves to fight it. Women, children, and men have inherent dignity that should never be violated.” (April has been National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month since Barack Obama declared it so in 2009.)

Being sexually harassed or assaulted can be devastating for a full-grown adult, female or male; it can initiate depression, anxiety, stress, and PTSD. It can also be the harbinger of personal relationship problems and work-related problems. For some girls and women who have personally experienced unwanted sexual verbal or physical sexual confrontations, the effect of seeing or even hearing Donald Trump in the media can cause flashbacks, unwanted memories, and sleep disturbances. Suffering sexual harassment and assault as a child can be much worse, causing wounds that last a life time that affect mental, emotional and physical development.

A marked increase in sexual harassment in schools since the election

The National Women’s Law Center (NMLC), a non-profit founded in 1972 dedicated to the protection and promotion of equality and opportunity for women and families, reports that after the 2016 presidential election, “there was a marked increase across the incidents of harassment triggered by hate, with more than 40 percent occurring in elementary and secondary schools or colleges. Many girls face overlapping forms of discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, disability, gender identity and/or sexual orientation.”

The NWLC discovered in their 2017 Let Her Learn Survey of 1,003 girls ranging in age from 14-18 that since Donald Trump was elected president, “being called a racial slur is a common experience shared by all girls of color, with one third to more than two in five of them saying they have had this experience (Asian and Pacific Islander girls reported the highest rates), compared to just over one eighth of white girls. The Let Her Learn Survey also reveals that more than 1 in 5 girls (21 percent) have been sexually assaulted, with LGBTQ girls reporting even higher rates. Widening the lens, almost 1 in 3 girls (31 percent) reported experiencing either sexual assault or other violence."

The NWLC report concludes, “These traumatic experiences not only affect girls’ mental and physical health, but also their ability to concentrate, feel safe, and stay and do well in school. And if girls do not graduate, they pay a high price. Compared to boys, girls who do not graduate from high school are more likely to be unemployed, to earn low wages if they have jobs, and to depend on public support programs to take care of themselves and their families.”

An increase in sexual assault at U.S. military academies

Last month the LA Times reported that a recent Pentagon survey found sexual assaults increased at two of the three U.S. military academies last year, and that sexual misconduct increased at all three of these tax-payer supported academies. Actual sexual physical assaults increased at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and also at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, but declined at the U.S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs. (However, we underscore the increase in sexual misconduct at all three academies.)

While the official report has yet to be released to the public so we don’t have the numbers for 2016, we do have the numbers for 2015 and 2014. According to the Department of Defense’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, there were 6,131 reports of sexual assault in 2014, followed by 6,083 in 2015; a decrease of 48 incidents from 2014 to 2015. So the new data represents the latest setback for the military in its efforts to reduce sexual misconduct. Although the services have struggled to explain a series of recent problems, including disclosure of Marines and other military members sharing nude photos of servicewomen on websites and social media, we have an idea of one contributing factor: The Trump Effect.

Case in point

About a year ago we were contacted by a friend about her daughter, Kirsten, a sophomore at a large East Coast university. The night before, Kirsten had been sexually assaulted; it was dark and she did not see her assailant. We spoke with Kirsten the next day and suggested she report the incident and receive immediate on-campus counseling. She downplayed the incident, saying, “It’s been happening a lot…it’s not a big deal.” She insisted she didn’t want her mother to come, citing financial concerns and repeating that she was okay. Eventually she confessed that she wasn’t attending classes, was crying constantly, and just wanted to stay in bed. She finally agreed to report the incident, go to the school counselor, and commence therapy. School officials notified her instructors of her situation; she was granted leniency and additional time to complete projects, papers, and exams.

Kirsten completed the school year with a lower-than-normal GPA and returned home thinner and “different.” Prior to the assault she was vibrant, positive, well-spoken, and focused on learning and her career. Now, she was shy and indifferent. She had lost interest in school and wanted to take a semester off. Her mother was afraid she would drop out of school altogether, but agreed that perhaps time away, as well as a different school, might be good for her. We picked up where the school counselor left off and spoke with Kirsten throughout the summer. Initially, our main emphasis was refocusing from her traumatic past negative experience to building a treasure trove of the many past positive things that had happened in her life. She drew upon these whenever she felt a flashback or unwanted thought creep into her mind. We also focused on the present as well as her future and suggested she take a self-defense class to bolster her self-confidence. In a couple of weeks, Kirsten decided that instead of taking a semester off she would apply for a scholarship for a semester abroad (which she was awarded) and return to her old school in the spring.

Spending time in a foreign land and learning with students from other nations was a life-altering experience for Kirsten. She was re-energized and looked forward to returning to school on the East Coast. But the second evening back at her old school, once again she was sexually assaulted. The circumstance was similar in that she did not see her assailant; he grabbed her from behind. But this time, as he violated her, he whispered, “Grab ‘em by the p***y.” Instead of being scared, Kirsten was infuriated. She stomped on her assailant’s foot, quickly turned around, strategically kneed him, and ran away. When we spoke with Kirsten the next day, she had already reported the incident and made an appointment with the school counselor. She explained that along with the intense anger that rushed through her in the moment, she also felt a surge of empowerment: “In my mind, I refused to be a victim. Not again. Not ever.” Kirsten continues to see her counselor on a regular basis for support.

What we can do

Whether sexual harassment will continue to rise during Trump’s presidency is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, we believe that his past and present misogynistic actions are the explanation for their current increase. It has emboldened some males to behave in previously unacceptable ways and to adopt the president's degenerative attitude (“Grab ‘em by the p**y. You can do anything,” and not get caught). That O’Reilly and Ailes were exposed, and had to pay penalties, leads us to believe that apparently, Fox News has higher standards than our government or we, the people!

So what can we do? As individuals, we can stand up to this appalling aspect of The Trump Effect by vowing to be vigilant and take care of each other rather than succumbing to the Bystander Effect. We’ll listen to and believe our daughters, sisters, friends, schoolmates, co-workers, and wives if they say they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted. We’ll aid them in getting the help they need. We’ll be a strong shoulder.

  • And if you are the one who is harassed or assaulted, you don’t have to go through this alone: Call 1-877-739-3895 (National Sexual Violence Resource Center Hotline) or 1-800-656-4673 (National Sexual Assault Hotline). We also recommend the Only with Consent website.

As reflected in Kirsten’s story, there is hope that as a nation, we will emerge from this crisis stronger because of a new generation of wise and vibrant young women. As stated in the NWLC’s 2017 Let Her Learn Survey, “despite the obstacles they face, girls are resilient and optimistic about their future, and many see themselves as leaders.” To that, we add, "Amen!"

For Further Reading

See Time Perspective Therapy; The Time Cure; and The Time Paradox. Learn more about yourself and helpful ways to cope with life’s stress at Discoveraetas; watch The River of Time. See Phil Zimbardo's Heroic Imagination Project

Click here to read a interview of Rose Sword by Sosa Manuel, aka Elliot Figueira.’s mission is to make psychology available to everyone; it is for millennials, by millennials.


Roger Aisles is Advising Donald Trump Ahead of Presidential Debates, by Maggie Haberman and Ashley Parker, The New York Times, August 16, 2016.

Stopping School Push Out: Overview and Key Findings, National Women’s Law Center, April 18, 2017.

Sexual assaults increase at U.S. military academies, Pentagon reports, by W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2017.

DoD Releases FY15 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, Press Operations, Release No: NR-164-16, May 5, 2016

More from Rosemary K.M. Sword and Philip Zimbardo Ph.D.
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