The #MeToo movement is engulfing the nation with a rapidly growing fervor. Following the revelation of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s dangerous and serial sexual harassment, his contemporaries throughout Hollywood, journalism, comedy, the culinary world, and politics have also been exposed.
Yet the artificially bronzed elephant in the room remains hulking and uninvestigated. We can’t forget that in 2016, nearly 20 women bravely came forward to share their unwanted and uninvited experiences with former tabloid star, real estate mogul, and reality show host Donald Trump. These women are not just part of the #MeToo movement; they are inspiration for the victims who shared their own stories this year.
Given the number of accusations, as well as recorded conversations of Trump on the Access Hollywood tape and The Howard Stern Show in which he brags about such behavior, the company I work for, Brave New Films, created a documentary examining the accused sexual harasser in the Oval Office. 16 Women and Donald Trump weaves together the most painful moments of these women’s feelings, emotions, and truths.
I then reached out to these women so they could tell their stories again, this time in the context of and in support of the #MeToo movement. On Monday, we hosted a press conference with three of the women I reached to publicly describe the sexual misconduct they maintain they experienced at the hands of the president, and to call for a congressional investigation of his behavior.
All of the women we spoke with were apprehensive about sharing their stories again. They were still experiencing the trauma of their truth being questioned and attacked. Though they were already being actively and aggressively pursued by well-known news personalities, they resisted. What was the point, they thought? No one cared about their stories in 2016. Why would that have changed?
The difference, we countered, was that there is power in numbers, and strength and unconditional support in sisterhood. And the discussion has shifted around sexual harassment since they first broke their silence. These points were validated by a Quinnipiac University national poll earlier this month: 70% of Americans believe Congress should investigate Trump for the sexual harassment allegations against him.
Why did these women come forward years later, and not at the time they allegedly endured Trump’s sexual misconduct? For Jessica Leeds, that would have meant shouting in front of her fellow first-class passengers after Trump allegedly assaulted her in 1979. While others saw the assault, no one helped when they saw her desperately squirming away from Trump, according to Leeds. How could she have confronted him at that moment?
Some might say Leeds should have alerted her boss after the incident. Leeds was working as a traveling paper saleswoman, which at the time made her among the few women traveling for work, let alone traveling on her own. How could Leeds have reasonably assumed that reporting a powerful, high-profile man’s aggression to her boss would end well?
When Rachel Crooks made the exciting move from Ohio to Manhattan, what if she almost immediately made a stink about the billionaire part-owner and most-coveted client of the building she worked in forcibly kissing her on the mouth and demanding her phone number shortly after starting the job? Would she have been able to continue on as usual? Or what if Miss USA contestant and 20-year-old Samantha Holvey had defiantly told Trump, the owner of the pageant, to give privacy and dignity to her and the other women dressing backstage? Would that have been an easy thing to do at the time? Keep in mind that two hired security guards were present, purportedly to protect against the exact behavior Trump allegedly engaged in. They didn’t stop it, according to Holvey.
Almost to underscore the difficult facing these silence breakers, the White House’s statement in response to the accusations on Monday again called into question the accusers’ reasons for coming forward now: “The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them.”
This statement is wrong. These women deserve a platform to tell their stories. Congress now needs to do the job its members were elected to do—serve the constituents of this country by investigating the allegations of Trump’s sexual misconduct. In doing so, lawmakers will honor the courage of the history-making women who spoke up against the president.
Shira Levine is a producer at Brave New Films.