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What's wrong with the 'too ugly to rape' argument? Everything.  3 Weeks ago

Source:   USA Today  

Days after writer E. Jean Carroll accused President Donald Trump of raping her in a Bergdof Goodman dressing room in the 1990s, the president said she was "totally lying" and "not my type."

It's not the first time Trump has used the tactic of criticizing a woman's appearance to discredit her. 

After Jessica Leeds accused Trump of sticking his hand up her skirt while on a flight in the 1980s, he said “Believe me, she would not be my first choice."

He suggested Natasha Stoynoff, a writer for People who claims Trump forced "his tongue down my throat," was not attractive enough to assault.

"Look at her," he told a cheering crowd at an October 2016 rally. "You tell me what you think. I don't think so. I don't think so."

Trump adamantly denies all 20 accusations of sexual misconduct.

The "too ugly to rape" defense is one many perpetrators use to undermine victims, and sexual-assault experts say it feeds into the public's misunderstanding of how sexual violence works.

"We see that babies to women in their 90s are raped," said Sarah Cook, associate dean at Georgia State University Honors College, a nationally recognized expert on violence against women and a survivor of sexual assault. "Rape isn't about sexual attraction. Rape is about the expression of power through sexual behavior." 

In March, Italy’s Justice Ministry ordered an inquiry into a court ruling that overturned a rape verdict in part because of an assertion the woman was too ugly to be a rape victim. 

Last year, a North Carolina Republican official shared on Facebook a fake photo mocking the appearance of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Cabarrus County Republican Chair Lanny Lancaster wrote: "This is the alleged sexual assault victim. Wow," the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported.

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid in 2011, online commenters questioned whether he would have raped her because of her "ugliness." 

Linking the likelihood of sexual violence to a woman's appearance is dangerous because it implies that if a woman was somehow less sexually attractive — for example, more covered up — then maybe she could have prevented her own rape. And it's not only men who make the case.

In a 2017 interview with Radio Times Magazine, actress Angela Lansbury said ”we must sometimes take blame, women. I really do think that. Although it’s awful to say we can’t make ourselves look as attractive as possible without being knocked down and raped.”

In a 2017 op-ed in the New York Times, actress Mayim Bialik suggested conventionally beautiful women are more likely to be targets for sexual predators.

For victims who are not conventionally attractive by society's standards, the argument is literally adding insult to injury, attacking someone's self-worth that has already been damaged by the assault.

The pervasity of the "too ugly" argument can also have a chilling effect on reporting, making victims who lack confidence in their appearance further doubt whether they will be believed.

"Most rape victims are already hesitant to disclose — whether due to fear of retaliation, shame, self-blame or doubting that others will believe their allegations," said Karen Weiss, a sociology professor at West Virginia University and an expert on sexual victimization. "Insulting their self-esteem is just another account that revictimizes women and keeps victims silent."

Sexual assault is never about a woman's beauty, experts say, but is a unique form of control used to shame, demean and defile victims. And it can happen to anyone, regardless of their appearance, age or what they're wearing.

"There are so many different portrayals of rape in our society, and many of them feed our stereotypes that rape is about sexual attraction, that you have to be absolutely beautiful, stunning, to be raped," Weiss said. "But the reality is, all of us are vulnerable." 

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