Joseph Tacopina, defense attorney for Donald Trump, in his cross-examination of E. Jean Carroll, wanted to know why she couldn’t remember exactly what year and day her rape occurred. Why didn’t she scream? Why couldn’t she remember how many other people were in Bergdorf Goodman’s that afternoon when she says that Donald Trump went into a dressing room with her, slammed her against a wall, forced his fingers into her and then his penis. Maybe Mr. Tacopina has never met a rape victim, or read about rape victims, or watched an episode of Law and Order. Maybe he knows nothing about how the fear response paralyses you – how you can’t move, can’t pull up your voice, can’t fight back, can’t remember every detail except the ones that will haunt you for the rest of your life. 

 I was raped in the late Seventies. I can’t tell you exactly what year it was. I never told a single person about it for nearly forty years. Then in 2018, when Christine Blasey Ford spoke up about Bret Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her, I was moved by her courage and I decided to tell the world. I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about what had happened to me. But I still couldn’t use the word “rape.” I called it a sexual assault – that was as far as I could go. Only when the music executive who assaulted me in his office died could I call it what it was. I didn’t scream that evening; I didn’t fight back. I went numb, and I never reported it because I knew what rape victims say is true – you end up getting raped again by people like Joseph Tacopina who ignorantly think that if you didn’t fight back, your claim of what happened to you isn’t “believable,” as he said to the jury about E. Jean Carroll’s accusation.

 After I wrote about my attack, a man on social media said I had to be lying because I was too ugly for anyone to want to rape me. His wasn’t the only comment like that, but it was the worst. If that comment reminds you of Donald Trump’s comment that E. Jean Carroll “isn’t his type,” it should.

 In the Seventies, a woman who was brave enough to report a rape and testify at trial, was most often discredited if she didn’t have defensive wounds on her, or if she was dressed provocatively at the time of the attack. The conclusion was that she had either asked for it, or wanted it, or both. There were no rape treatment centers then, there was nowhere to go for help. Gail Abarbanel decided to change that. She started the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica California, giving women a safe place to go – to be believed, and comforted. She also educated people about what happens when a woman is attacked, how there are often no defensive wounds because terror froze every muscle in her body and she couldn’t fight back. But clearly there are those who haven’t been educated. The account of Mr. Tacopina’s cross-examination of E. Jean Carroll shows that some people prefer to stay rooted in an archaic and ignorant notion of just what rape is. 

 Many years after my assault, I took a women’s self-defense course – one of those courses where the man who plays the attacker is padded up like the Michelin Man and women are taught to fight for their lives. But before you’re taught to fight, you’re taught to yell from your diaphragm in order to break the fear response. The first class was about learning to yell No! so the breath isn’t allowed to freeze up which would then paralyze the muscles. 

 That information is out there, if Joseph Tacopina or anyone else with outdated views about rape would like to inform themselves. As for his claim to the jury that they are being asked to “believe the unbelievable,” the only thing that’s unbelievable to me is that he could have remained so ignorant for all these years.  


  1. Joy K says:

    Powerful piece by Patti.

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