This past week, two stories broke involving allegations of rape. Allegations against powerful men of great wealth who would seemingly do anything to make the controversies go away.
Side by side, our cultural ambivalence towards rape — a crime motivated not by passion but by power and entitlement with sex as its weapon — could not be more striking.
On Monday, the Daily Beast unearthed an old story about Donald Trump’s ex-wife, Ivana, accusing him of rape. The real stunner was not so much the allegation itself, which was made during the Trumps’ divorce proceedings in the early ’90s, but a statement made to the Daily Beast by an attorney for Donald Trump, who said, unequivocally: It is legal to rape one’s spouse.
Also on Monday, New York Magazine featured photographs of 35 of Bill Cosby’s rape accusers on its July 27 cover story “I’m No Longer Afraid’: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen.”
New York Magazine’s photography director Jody Quon said editors began the project of telling the accusers’ stories of rape by lining up the women’s accounts in chronological order of assault, from the 1960s to the present day. The women came from all parts of the country and all different walks of life — from supermodels, waitresses, college students and journalists. They ranged in age from their early 20s to 80 years old.
Together, they comprised a “sorrowful sisterhood,” unified by a celebrity whose status as a national cultural icon — a TV dad in a cardigan — insured their silence and sense of shame. As Cosby allegedly told some of his victims: “No one would believe you. So, why would you speak up?”
In a deposition for a 2005 court case that was recently made public, Cosby admitted having sex with young women after giving them Quaaludes. “I used them,” he said, “the same as a person would say, ‘Have a drink.’”
Regarding consent, Cosby said: “I think I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things.”
Also clueless on the matter of consent, Michael Cohen, special counsel at the Trump organization, responded to a reporter’s question about Ivana Trump’s accusation of rape in early ’90s, saying that there is no such thing, legally, as a husband raping his wife.
“You’re talking about about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody,” an irate Cohen told the reporter. ”And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”
Cohen practices in New York where marital rape has been a crime since 1984. Spousal rape is illegal throughout the entire United States.
Ivana’s allegations originally surfaced in a 1993 book “The Last Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump” by Harry Hurt III. Hurt cited a divorce deposition in which Ivana claimed that during a particularly ugly fight in 1989, her then-husband sexually attacked her, pulling out clumps of her hair and tearing her clothes off.
Ivana Trump later softened her court deposition stance, issuing the following statement: “On one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a rape, but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”
That statement was provided to Hurt by her then ex-husband and his lawyers whereupon, interestingly enough, it wound up on the first page of “The Last Tycoon.”
The divorce case, which was finalized in 1991, was granted on the grounds of Donald’s “cruel and inhumane treatment” of Ivana. The settlement also involved a gag order that keeps Ivana from talking about her marriage to Donald Trump without his permission.
But the gag order evidently did not prevent Ivana from issuing a statement Tuesday in which she played down the controversy, saying the “the story is totally without merit” and that “Donald and I are the best of friends.” She added: “Incidentally, I think he would make an incredible president.”
For his part, Cohen threatened the Daily Beast reporter: “You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape” and I’m going to mess your life up ... for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet.
“I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibley know.”
When the Daily Beast published Cohen’s rampage, the Trump campaign immediately distanced itself from Cohen. Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told CNN: “Michael Cohen is a corporate employee and is not affiliated with the campaign in any way.”
Backpedaling fast is becoming an art form in the Trump camp. By Tuesday morning, Cohen apologized for his remarks. “As an attorney, husband and father there are many injustices that offend me but nothing more than charges of rape or racism, they hit me at my core,” Cohen said in an email with the Daily News.
“Rarely am I surprised by the press, but the gall of this particular reporter to make such a reprehensible and false allegation against Mr. Trump truly stunned me. In my moment of shock and anger I made an inarticulate comment, which I do not believe — and which I apologize for entirely.”
Sorry counselor, but you can’t be an attorney purporting spousal rape is not a crime one day, only to be appalled — as an attorney, husband and father — the next day by the very same accusation.
Meanwhile, not to be dissuaded, Daily Beast reporters began to investigate whether Cohen’s work with the Trump presidential campaign may be a violation of campaign finance laws, if indeed, he is not “affiliated with the campaign in any way.”
And yet, a bright light emerged in all this ugliness. It came in form of the perseverance displayed by Chelan Lasha, who had come forward late last year to say Bill Cosby had drugged her when she was 17. After meeting with her fellow accusers, she said: “I’m no longer afraid. I feel more powerful than him.”