Stamford woman feels echo of sex-assault ‘banter’ in Trump video

December 3, 2016 GMT

STAMFORD — It was the laughing.

Billy Bush cracked up when Donald Trump told him that, if you’re a star, you can grab women and do whatever you want to them.

The conversation was caught on a 2005 video that aired repeatedly in October, when Trump was running for president. It showed the then-host of “Access Hollywood” accompanying Trump to a television set where Trump was to appear on a soap opera.

“Whatever you want,” Bush repeated. “Ha, ha, ha, ha.”

A Stamford woman recoiled each time she heard it.

“I’m sure Trump thought it was funny, too,” the woman said. “But to hear Billy Bush laughing … I wanted to throw up.”

It brought her back to a June night in 1992, when she was 23 and running from three men who had raped her. They followed her in a car as she ran.

“They were hooting and hollering,” she said. “I was on foot and they were in a car, laughing at me.”

She ran to one house and knocked but nobody answered. She ran to a second house and a man came to the door but refused to open it. He must have called police, the woman said, because an officer arrived a few minutes later.

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, has never spoken out about the attack. Now she is among scores of American women — including a dozen who claim Trump groped them — who are revealing histories of sexual assault because of the video.

“When the women started coming forward about Trump, people were attacking them, saying they must all be liars, otherwise why are they bringing it up now?” the woman said. “In most cases women have no incentive to lie. I buried it for 20 years. It took all that time to think maybe I don’t need to keep feeling ashamed and embarrassed.”

She was assaulted in Westport after she went with her friend to a Norwalk bar, where she met a young man and agreed to go to his place.

“As soon as I walked in, I knew it was a bad situation,” she said.

The man and two of his friends restrained her and repeatedly raped her. According to a report from the Westport Police Department, they were New York men staying in a cottage on the grounds of a large house they’d been hired to paint. Each was charged with first-degree sexual assault, which carries a penalty of up to 40 years in prison.

But in July 1993 they pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of third-degree sexual assault. A judge gave them three-year suspended sentences — meaning no prison time — three years of probation, and ordered each to pay the woman $5,000 to cover the costs of counseling.

’Bad advice’

An Advocate story from September 1993 reported that then-state’s attorney Bruce Hudock said there were problems with the evidence. The woman had been drinking, which could have impaired her judgment and memory of events, and the men said she consented to sex, Hudock said.

“I believe she has been victimized,” he said at the time. “My consideration also has to go to how a jury will react to a particular set of facts.”

She was not drunk, the woman said, and she did not consent.

“I said ‘no’ many, many times,” she said. “I tried to defend myself but I couldn’t. I gave up because I thought I would live, or not get hurt as bad. I have second-guessed myself for that many times.”

She was persuaded to go along with the plea deal, she said.

“I was young and I probably got bad advice. I was told, ‘This will be a big attack on you. It will make you look like a slut and an alcoholic,’” she said. “I went to police and they didn’t treat me as a victim. They questioned me as a witness. If I had been beaten and left on the side of the road, I would have been treated as a victim. But because I [said I] was raped, maybe I lied. Once it becomes a sexual assault, something changes.”

She saw the men in the courthouse after the plea deal was struck, the woman said.

“They were staring me down with smiles on their faces,” she said. “They were laughing at me.”

The ‘boogeyman’

It has affected everything - her marriage, her divorce, her thoughts about raising her children, her relationships with friends, colleagues and family members.

“All kinds of things trigger feelings of not being safe. You start panicking. You don’t want to go near a window or be in the dark or leave your room. You think the boogeyman is out there,” she said. “But, for me, the biggest trigger is the laughing.”

Her experience as a victim is all too common, said Ivonne Zucco, executive director of The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis and Education in Stamford. Victims often create boundaries to protect themselves, which makes relationships difficult, and they can be overcome with fearfulness, Zucco said.

Sexual assault is more likely than other crimes to be minimized, she said.

“It’s because it’s an intimate crime; usually there are no witnesses,” she said. “It’s also a confusing crime. People internalize it. They feel they did something to make it happen. Then other people second-guess them. There is this idea that the victim is in charge of preventing the assault. But the only one in charge of preventing it is the perpetrator.”

It’s easy to understand why only 40 percent of sexual assaults are reported, Zucco said.

The president-elect’s banter about kissing and groping women should horrify people, not amuse them, the woman said.

“The laughing is a lightning rod,” she said.

Requests for comment emailed to Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks were not returned.

angela.carella@scni.com; 203-964-2296; stamfordadvocate.com/angelacarella.