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Trump is found liable for sexual abuse, but not rape, in civil case

Of all the accusations of sexual harassment and abuse that have dogged the former president, this is the only one that has gone to trial, at a time when the Republican is seeking reelection

E. Jean Carrol, Trump Rape Trial
E. Jean Carroll, arriving at the New York courthouse on Tuesday.JUSTIN LANE (EFE)

A jury has found former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996. The nine jurors — six men and three women — reached a verdict in record time, after less than three hours of deliberations. They determined that there was no rape, but there was sexual abuse, in the civil trial stemming from a lawsuit presented by former Elle columnist Carroll, and awarded her $5 million in damages. Of all the accusations of sexual harassment and abuse that Trump has dodged in recent decades, this is the only one that has made it to trial, at a time when the Republican aspirant for reelection in 2024 faces an array of lawsuits and investigations, including being indicted in April of 34 felony charges for hush-many payments made to a porn actress.

The front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential race has denied time and time again raping Carroll and has accused her of making up the story to boost sales of a 2019 memoir in which the journalist went public with the story. In his first reaction after learning of the verdict, through a post on Truth Social, Trump insisted: “I have absolutely no idea who this woman is. This verdict is a disgrace — a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time!”

According to Carroll’s lawsuit, filed in 2019 in the height of the #MeToo movement, Trump raped her in a fitting room of a luxury department store in Manhattan, in the spring of 1996 — something the Republican has always denied. When Carroll dared to publicly recount the event, he defamed her — as determined by the jury — when he posted a statement on his social media platform Truth Social, in which he called the writer’s case “a complete con job” and “a Hoax and a lie.” “And, while I am not supposed to say it, I will. This woman is not my type!” the October 2022 post added.

Trump repeatedly declined to appear in the civil trial, something the prosecution relied on to make its case. As it was a civil —not criminal — proceeding, the former president has not been convicted of any crime and faces no prison sentences. During the trial, which lasted just two weeks, the prosecution, led by lawyer Roberta Kaplan, called 10 witnesses. The defense — none. Trump’s lawyers bet on what they considered to be inconsistent evidence and the time elapsed since the 1996 encounter on which Carroll’s suit was based on. They also relied on a strategy of revictimizing the victim — as many activists have denounced in the past few days —, highlighting the fact that Carroll did not scream when she was allegedly assaulted nor did she report it to the police. Leslie Lebowitz, a psychologist who advised the prosecution, rebutted the defense’s claims by explaining that, in cases of sexual assault, the victim’s shock causes a paralyzing silence. Carroll filed her lawsuit under a new law in New York that allows adult sex assault victims to file claims that would otherwise be barred by the passage of time.

On Monday, both sides presented their closing arguments. The session quickly turned into a compilation not only of the details of the case, but, in general, of Trump’s behavior with women. The prosecution presented excerpts from a 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which Trump claims that women let him “grab them by the pussy” because he’s “a star.” In an October 2022 deposition, which was made public last week, Trump doubled down on the comments he made in the infamous recording: “Historically, that’s true with stars,” he said during the pretrial investigation late last year.

Among the ten witnesses the prosecution brought forward, two other women told of episodes of sexual abuse by the Republican, one in the 1970s and another, more recent, in 2005. “Three different women, decades apart, but a single pattern of behavior,” Kaplan said, rebutting Trump’s defense, which asked the jury to consider the claims of other witnesses “ridiculous.”

Trump is scheduled to participate this Wednesday in a pre-election event organized by CNN. It remains to be seen whether he will use the jury’s decision in his favor — as he did after he was indicted in April — to reap campaign donations and drive up his popularity. It’s undeniable that, so far, the politician has always emerged unscathed, and almost victorious, from setbacks that would have left any adversary in the ditch. Bad news is, in Trump’s case, the best weapon.

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