Women who choose to speak publicly about the sexual misconduct they’ve suffered generally pay a high price for it, and even as they weather threats, trolling, and multi-faceted harassment, they find themselves painted as self-serving opportunists courting publicity for personal gain. That has certainly been the case for Stormy Daniels, who recently corroborated reports that President Donald Trump’s camp waged an intimidation campaign against her to suppress headlines about a decade-old sexual encounter.
In a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper aired Sunday night, Daniels — an adult actress and producer née Stephanie Clifford — confronted the same question so often asked of those who come forward with stories about bad behaviour by people in power. “How do we know you’re telling the truth?” Cooper asked, and Daniels delivered a succinct response.
“Because I have no reason to lie,” she said. “I’m opening myself up to possible danger, and definitely a whole lot of shit.”
When Cooper countered she might leverage her time in the spotlight into a lucrative book deal, or at least a little more notoriety for her exotic dance tour (“Making America Horny Again”), Daniels noted: “That’s a lot of ifs. I could also get shunned. I could automatically be alienating half of my fan base right at this moment.” She also agreed with fellow adult industry veteran Jenna Jameson’s fairly damning assessment of the situation: “I actually think it’s career suicide. The left looks at her as a whore and just uses her to try to discredit the president,” Jameson tweeted earlier this month. “The right look at her like a treacherous rat. It’s a lose lose. Should have kept her trap shut.”
Daniels granted that there was “a lot of wisdom in those words.” While she is adamant that she is not a victim of sexual assault, and that had sex with Trump of her own volition, her situation stands as a reminder that when you publicly accuse an influential person of misconduct, you have everything to lose and very little to gain. Not only are you subject to tireless scrutiny from disbelieving strangers, you also run up against the frustrating truth that — until very recently — things generally play out the way the people on top want them to.
Although she was not attracted to him, although she did not want to, Daniels had sex with Trump. She insists she was not a victim and viewed the experience as a consensual, and their relationship, as professional.
That seemed to end abruptly after he summoned her to his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007, though. When she arrived, she found Trump engrossed in a shark documentary; when he eventually did try to initiate sex, Daniels steered the conversation to his Apprentice promises. He deferred, and she left. One month later, he called to say the deal was a no-go.
Then, in 2011, Daniels spoke the the tabloid InTouch about the encounter, an interview she says never ran because Cohen threatened to sue and killed the story. Shortly thereafter, she was alone in a Las Vegas parking lot, wrestling with her infant daughter’s car seat, when a man approached her and demanded she drop the story. According to Daniels, he looked down at her baby and said, “That’s a beautiful little girl, it would be a shame if something happened to her mom.” She believes Cohen mobilised this man. (Cohen’s lawyer, Brent Blakely, subsequently hit Daniels with a cease-and-desist over this assertion.)
Since going public, Daniels has been branded a grifter, a whore, a “sick bitch,” and a liar. And as Cooper pointed out, if she is telling the truth now, then she lied on multiple occasions in the past, which compromises her credibility. Daniels understands that: When she signed the NDA, she did so without negotiation because, she said, “I was concerned for my family and their safety.” She continued:
"I believe without a shadow of a doubt, in my heart — and some people would argue that I don’t have one of those, but whatever — that I was doing the right thing. I turned down a large payday, multiple times, because one: I didn’t want to kiss and tell and be labeled all the things I’m being labeled now; I didn’t want to take away from the legitimate — and legal, I’d like to point out — career that I’ve worked very hard to establish, and most importantly? I did not want my family and my child exposed to all the things that she’s being exposed to right now. Because everything that I was afraid of coming out has come out anyway, and guess what? I don’t have a million dollars. You didn’t even buy me breakfast."
Daniels says she wasn’t paid for the 60 Minutes appearance, but sure: Daniels’ media moment may well lead to money-making opportunities. It may also lead to a hulking legal bill: Under Cohen’s terms, she accrues a $1 million penalty every time she violates the NDA.
But more than that, let’s remember that threat Daniels received from a stranger who had apparently been following her, one that challenged her sense of physical safety. While Daniels is adamant that she does not see herself as a victim, we know what happens to the women named in sex scandals.
In January, Tina Johnson — one of the woman who accused Roy Moore of sexual assault — lost her Alabama home to a fire, which authorities investigated as arson. With allegations of sexual abuse percolating, Harvey Weinstein hired a team of covert Israeli intelligence operatives to silence actress Rose McGowan and keep her from telling the press that he had raped her. In 2008, an 18-year-old who reported being raped in her apartment recanted under pressure from police and wound up charged with a crime — only to see her attacker arrested two years later in another state, with evidence proving her original story. And on a smaller scale, an estimated 75% of workplace sexual harassment reports end in retaliation against the complainant.
All too often, people who speak out about abuse find themselves subject to a litany of mistreatment on top of the original offence, while the perpetrator walks free. This is not a secret — in fact, fear of retribution and a belief that law enforcement won’t help constitute two of the primary reasons why just one in three sexual assaults are reported to police. For every 1,000 rapes that do go to trial, an estimated seven cases lead to felony convictions, and six lead to incarceration. Granted, it is damn near impossible to pin down precise statistics on false rape reports, because law enforcement officers often miscategorise unsubstantiated reports as false; because water-muddying substances like alcohol were involved; because the police officers assigned to the case might happen to believe rape myths. The research indicates, however, that false reports account for 2 to 10% of total rape cases brought before authorities. When someone comes forward to say they were sexually coerced, exploited, or abused, statistically speaking, they’re likely not lying.
Again, Daniels isn’t alleging sexual assault; she’s alleging that a presidential candidate undertook sustained, aggressive efforts to keep a splashy sex story out of the papers in the final hours of a campaign already tarnished by myriad misconduct complaints. She’s alleging that the billionaire who now occupies the nation’s highest office used his position and influence as a gag. That shouldn’t strike anyone as implausible Trump behaviour, and seen through its lens, changes in her story become more understandable. But the power imbalance driving Daniels’ case is a template for the larger problem people with misconduct allegations face: next to no one gets rewarded for coming forward, even if they do find themselves on primetime TV.
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