Editorial: Was Trump’s declaration of Sexual Assault Awareness Month genuine?

Editorial Board

Without any sense of irony, President Donald Trump on March 31 declared April as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. While some initially viewed this step as one of Trump finally committing himself to the health and well-being of women and girls, perhaps even finally acting “presidential,” there is no reason to believe that Trump, or anyone in his cabinet, suddenly cares about victims of sexual assault — even for a single month.

Former President Barack Obama was the first president to officially devote the month of April to sexual assault awareness nationwide, signing his first proclamation in 2009. For Trump, following Obama’s lead in this area is likely indicative of several things not at all related to Trump’s nonexistent regard of women as people. For example, it could be a public relations move, something to save his low approval rating.

The reactions on social media to Trump’s declaration were many, with some even remarking that this must have been an early April Fools’ Day joke – surely he wouldn’t have been so imperceptive or lacked so much self-awareness. As it happened, the declaration itself, incongruous with what we all know to be Trump’s past, was only the beginning.

But just five days into Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and again with no sense of irony, Trump came to the defense of longtime Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who recently settled several cases of sexual harassment brought against him by five women. After calling O’Reilly a “good person,” Trump doubled down, adding “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” As many on Twitter remarked after seeing the news, Trump is certainly upholding the idea of the month in his own way: by making the country aware of his abhorrent views on sexual assault.

These views have also been exemplified in Trump’s choices for his cabinet and staff. During her confirmation hearing, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos repeatedly evaded questions regarding whether she would maintain Title IX guidance related to sexual assault in universities. Trump’s chief strategist (for now) Steve Bannon has been accused of sexual assault, and former labor secretary nominee Andy Puzder was accused of sexual harassment.

There are ways to observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month appropriately, as it has been observed in some form or another since the 1970s. Students still have a choice of several events to attend at Iowa State that focus on sharing stories, fundraising for organizations that help sexual assault victims and learning how to raise awareness. You can also visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website for more information about the month.

We cannot become complacent with the fact that we have a sitting president who has not only been accused of sexual assault, but has also admitted to sexually harassing and assaulting women. And while he’s certainly not the first president to have these horrific actions in his past, pretending this situation is anywhere near normal is an insult to many, but this month especially to victims of sexual assault nationwide.