Donald Trump is a Trigger

November 28, 2016 by

It’s been nearly three weeks since Donald Trump was dubbed President-Elect of the United States. In the wake of his victory, survivors of sexual violence are seeking healing—but they remain triggered by the barrage of abusive and blunt conversations about sexual violence that have come from the President-Elect himself. How do they move forward into a Trump presidency when Trump’s campaign reminded them, consistently and unrelentingly, of one of the worst experiences of their lives?


Triggers are as diverse as the survivors they affect and can range in response from sadness, discomfort, anxiety, panic attacks, dissociation, numbness, flashbacks, terror or freezing. A trigger is caused by the brain associating a smell, image, location, person, touch or even sound with a past traumatic experience the body has yet to process. In an article from Brain Blogger, Dr. Viatcheslav Wlassoff explained that neuro-imaging studies of the brains of individuals who suffer from PTSD showed that traumatic events actually alter the structure of the brain to be in prolonged states of hyper-arousal. It’s in these moments that someone is being triggered that their brain is actually responding to the imprint of a traumatic experience rather than an immediate danger.

When Trump’s 2005 interview tapes with Billy Bush originally surfaced in early October—in which he admitted on camera to “grabbing women by the pussy” and “moving on them like a bitch”—the National Sexual Assault Hotline saw a 33 percent increase in people calling in for their support.

Trump’s “locker room talk” demolished Sage Swiatek, a self-identified queer polyamorous woman, from filtering and coping with the continued triggers of her sexual assault as she had been for years. “I suffer from PTSD as a result of sexual assault which makes a trigger something that has very real consequences on my health and well-being,” Swiatek shared with Ms. “Every time there was a media uptick around sexual assault—like Brock Turner, for example—I was able to work through triggers by temporarily blocking myself from social media or avoiding places in which those discussions might be happening.”

That strategy, though, isn’t possible with Trump as president-elect. It wasn’t even possible when he was running for the office. “I would need to live completely under a rock to avoid being triggered around sexual assault in the height of the election,” Swiatek told Ms. 

Domestic violence, sexual assault and gun violence survivor and activistCourtney Weaver—who was shot in the face and arm by her now-imprisoned abusive ex-boyfriend—noticed early on that Trump exhibited qualities reminiscent of him. On the night of the election, Weaver woke up drenched in sweat to the sensation of someone strangling her after she dreamt Trump was trying to grab her. “I am worried about my safety when my ex gets out of prison in 2019,” Weaver said. “I was already concerned about that, but this election validates his motive and all the perpetrators and predators out there.” Despite her fear, Weaver continues to use her voice to speak out about her experiences with the hope of not only changing legislation but also inspiring other survivors share their own experiences.

It’s not only the fact that Trump—a man accused by over 10 women of sexual assault and countless others of sexual harassment—won the election that has shaken survivors. It’s also the fact that millions of Americans thusly overlooked his history of violating of women when they voted. Trump’s election sent a clear message that in U.S. culture it’s still considered normal and even worthy of reward for men to see women as something to “grab” or “move” without consent. Trump’s presidency thus effectively silences survivors from reporting or even sharing their own stories for fear of backlash and judgement.

Trump’s actions, words, articulated values and demonstrated beliefs illustrate how people have used—and continue to use—their privilege to have power over someone’s worth, voice and choice,” Grace Poon, the Coordinator of Sexual Violence Prevention and Education at Stanford University, told Ms. “When Trump illustrates this—whether it be through the tapes, his actions or words—it triggers survivors significantly because of their trauma that is related to experiences of invalidation and devaluation of their boundaries.”

“When I was a sexually assault back in 2004,” survivor Caitlin Lanier told Ms., “my trauma reaction was to freeze—and similarly, I have felt frozen since the election. I feel stuck. I feel numb. I feel completely helpless and hopeless. I am so afraid of having someone [as president] who is guilty of sexual assault and who does not get it—thinks that bragging about sexual assault is okay—is going to be setting this movement [opposing sexual assault] so far back. All the progress we’ve made will not only be lost, but maybe be worse off.”

It is within the power of survivors, however, to ensure that we don’t roll back the progress of the fight to end violence—as well as all those allied to them. The first step in continuing to fight, especially for those who are triggered or struggling to cope—is to practice self-care.

“To survivors with multiple intersecting oppressive experiences of hate, bias, discrimination and marginalization due to your identities—you are not alone,” Poon declared. In her work at Stanford, Poon educates and empowers underserved and marginalized communities whose healing process is complicated by their intersecting identities and historical oppression from societal institutions. She recommended survivors engage with communities that they feel safe in, celebrate and reflect on their strength and spend time with those that share their experiences and values in order to cope with backlash and other triggers sure to come next.

Zabie Yamasaki, the Assistant Director of UCLA’s Campus Assault Resource and Education center, has spent years developing a yoga curriculum now implemented at universities and community centers around the world that provides healing and reconnection for survivors of sexual assault with their bodies. Her work after the election is more personal, however, than ever.

“I am a woman of color. I am a survivor of sexual violence. I am Muslim,” Yamasaki told Ms. “The various intersections of my identity are quite frankly the epitome of all things Trump has expressed hatred towards. This election has sent me into a state of hyper-arousal, my nervous system has been revved up constantly. It’s exhausting. But I believe in our capacity to re-group, restore, repair and build the strength we collectively need to more forward.”

In the wake of the election, Yamasaki has been contacted by survivors across the country feeling unsafe, panicked, numb, heartbroken, disconnected and betrayed. She has been offering four pieces of advice to help those struggling with”Post-Trump Stress Disorder” continue their healing process: identifying and making use of inner resources and safe spaces, developing a core set of exercises to calm the nervous system, remaining emotionally present and identifying a mantra. (One of Yamasaki’s favorites is: “I am loved. I am home. I am safe. I am resilient. I am in my body.”)

“Self-care is also a form of activism and resistance,” Swiatek told Ms. “Working to remind myself that I am worthy of safety, I am worthy of love, I am worthy of autonomy over my own body is the most radical thing I can do.”

Although rape and sexual assault remain widely underreported, RAINN states that one in six American women and one in 33 American men will experience sexual assault at some point during their lifetime. If that number holds true, nearly 40.8 million survivors are living in the United States right now.

Though we cannot change the outcome of the election, survivors can continue using our experiences to change the nation’s dialogue around sexual violence. Through our words, we will combat victim blaming and rape culture by continuing to remind the public that our bodies are not objects that can be violated and forgotten. In the face of adversity, we’re infinitely stronger together.

As Yamasaki so perfectly reminds us: “No one, not even the president-elect, can take away [our] resilience, courage and healing.”

Carly Lanning can be found searching NYC for the perfect slice of pie and contemplating life with Alfred, her red yoga mat, when not photographing her cats for Instagram. She’s a professional video curator for digital media companies, the founder of Voices—a oral history project dedicated to ending sexual violence one story at a time—and a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. She’s previously been published on NBC, Thrillist, YouTube Trends, Daily Dot and BUST Magazine.


The Southern Poverty Law Center

HATE IN AMERICA is a dreadful, daily constant. The dragging death of a black man in Jasper, Texas; the crucifixion of a gay man in Laramie, Wyo.; and the stabbing death of a Latino immigrant in Long Island, N.Y., are not “isolated incidents.” They are eruptions of a nation’s intolerance.

Bias is a human condition, and American history is rife with prejudice against groups and individuals because of their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or other differences. The 20th century saw major progress in outlawing discrimination, and most Americans today support integrated schools and neighborhoods. But stereotypes and unequal treatment persist, an atmosphere often exploited by hate groups.

When bias motivates an unlawful act, it is considered a hate crime. Race and religion inspire most hate crimes, but hate today wears many faces. Bias incidents (eruptions of hate where no crime is committed) also tear communities apart — and threaten to escalate into actual crimes.

In recent years, the FBI has reported between 7,000 and 8,000 hate crime incidents per year in the United States. But law enforcement officials acknowledge that hate crimes — similar to rape and family violence crimes — go under-reported, with many victims reluctant to go to the police. In addition, some police agencies are not fully trained to recognize or investigate hate crimes, and many simply do not collect or report hate crime data. A definitive study by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2005 estimated there are about 191,000 hate crime incidents per year.

The good news is … All over the country people are fighting hate, standing up to promote tolerance and inclusion. More often than not, when hate flares up, good people rise up against it — often in greater numbers and with stronger voices.

This guide sets out 10 principles for fighting hate, along with a collection of inspiring stories of people who worked to push hate out of their communities.

Whether you need a crash course to deal with an upcoming white-power rally, a primer on the media or a long-range plan to promote tolerance in your community, you will find practical advice, timely examples and helpful resources in this guide. The steps outlined here have been tested in scores of communities across the nation by a wide range of human rights, faith and civic organizations.

Our experience shows that one person, acting from conscience and love, is able to neutralize bigotry. Imagine, then, what an entire community, working together, might do.

1 ACT Do something. In the face of hatred, apathy will be interpreted as acceptance — by the perpetrators, the public and, worse, the victims. Decent people must take action; if we don’t, hate persists. page 6

2 UNITE Call a friend or co-worker. Organize  allies from churches, schools, clubs and other civic groups. Create a diverse coalition. Include children, police and the media. Gather ideas from everyone, and get everyone involved. page 8

3 SUPPORT THE VICTIMS Hate-crime victims are especially vulnerable, fearful and alone. If you’re a victim, report every incident — in detail — and ask for help. If you learn about a hate-crime victim in your community, show support. Let victims know you care. Surround them with comfort and protection. page 10

4 DO YOUR HOMEWORK An informed campaign improves its effectiveness. Determine if a hate group is involved, and research its symbols and agenda. Understand the difference between a hate crime and a bias incident. page 12

5 CREATE AN ALTERNATIVE Do not attend a hate rally. Find another outlet for anger and frustration and for people’s desire to do something. Hold a unity rally or parade to draw media attention away from hate. page 14

6 SPEAK UP Hate must be exposed and denounced. Help news organizations achieve balance and depth. Do not debate hate-group members in conflict-driven forums. Instead, speak up in ways that draw attention away from hate, toward unity. page 16

7 LOBBY LEADERS Elected officials and other community  leaders can be important allies in the fight against hate. But some must overcome reluctance — and others, their own biases — before they’re able to take a stand. page 18

8 LOOK LONG RANGE Promote tolerance and address bias before another hate crime can occur. Expand your community’s comfort zones so you can learn and live together. page 20

9 TEACH TOLERANCE Bias is learned early, usually at home. Schools can offer lessons of tolerance and acceptance. Sponsor an “I Have a Dream” contest. Reach out to young people who may be susceptible to hate-group propaganda and prejudice. page 22

10 DIG DEEPER Look inside yourself for prejudices and stereotypes. Build your own cultural competency, then keep working to expose discrimination wherever it happens — in housing, employment, education and more. page 24


Black Lives Still Must Matter, Even After Dallas

But the attack is a reminder that no life will be safe and truly valued until we also confront the broader American culture of violence.

What It Means To #ReclaimMLK

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese,
January 16th, 2015


This week, in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, people around the country are organizing actions to #ReclaimMLK as the true person he was; one that recognized the roots of the crises being experienced and who made connections between many issues. Dr. King was a critic of capitalism, racism and imperialism. He said:

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Dr. King called for a “revolution of values,” meaning a shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. A new generation of young activists is embracing the radical Dr. King and rejecting the watered-down version presented in major media. A strong example isthis group of grade school students who organized a powerful celebration of Dr. King’s birthday on Jan. 15 with a march from their school to the juvenile detention center.

While those “giant triplets” continue to ravage our communities, the “revolution of values” is back on track with focused work by activists in the US, sometimes in collaboration with activists around the world, to expose and end systemic racism, to end imperialism and to create a new solidarity economy.

Ending Racist Policing

The #BlackLivesMatter movement continues bold actions to both gain attention for systemic racism and to push for necessary reforms that reign in violence and put communities back in control. Events in New York City have been particularly volatile as police first went on a slowdown, arresting “only those who needed it,” and have now increased arrests for questionable and minimal violations of law.

1richmondThe police union in New York has refused to recognize that it has a problem. In other areas of the country where police chiefs have respected the rights of protestors and have even joined them, police unions and residents have complained. Following numerous peaceful protests in Grand Central Station, transit police banned die-ins, but demonstrators defied the ban.

Coast to coast, communities are organizing for change. In Los Angeles, Black Lives Matter activists camped outside the police department for days asking for a meeting with the police chief over the killing of Ezell Ford.  Two leaders were arrested for entering the station to deliver a letter, but they finally met with the chief.

In Cleveland where young Tamir Rice was killed, more than 40 churches are working together to develop a plan for police reform. And President Obama has convened a task force on “21st Century Policing.” DCFerguson organizer Kymone Freeman attended the task force’s first town hall and felt he was in an alternative universe where police were applauded for reduced crime without much focus on police violence. Will this effort be used to deter real reform? Watch his strong testimony before the task force here.

1ferrg2guanConnecting Militarism at Home and Abroad

Perhaps the greatest speech of Dr. Kingwas the speech he gave a year before his death, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break the Silence” which described the United States as “the greatest purveyor of violence” in the world and urged an end to the Vietnam War. Sadly, the United State continues to be a purveyor of violence, with increasing militarism around the world.

In the new Congress this year, we can expect more war. After meeting recently with the President, leadership stated that they may move to pass a broad authorization of war against ISIS and others. And with more war, comes more military spending and more cuts to public programs. As Allegra Kirkland points out, “This year, we’re on track to spend over $1 trillion on national security, after factoring in nuclear weapons funding, military pensions and ‘overseas contingency funds,’ in addition to the Pentagon’s $580 billion operating budget.”

Dr. King said it best: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

Mother of Emanuel leads procession at US Department of Justice with representatives of Witness Against Torture and Hands Up Coalition DC. Source Witness Against Torture.

We saw that spiritual doom at the weekly Justice Mondays outside the Department of Justice in Washington, DC organized by the HandsUpCoalitionDC. This past Monday, the coalition connected with Witness Against Torture and also remembered Muslims who are targets because of the never-ending war on terror. After a protest at the DOJ, three coffins were carried to the front doors of the DC Police Station and activists held a rally inside and outside the police station for 28 minutes to mark the death of people of color every 28 hours.

Witness Against Torture concluded a week of actions around the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. They held a “Torturer’sTour” over the weekend where they visited the homes of Dick Cheney and John Brennan and the CIA. And earlier on Monday, WAT activists were arrested for actions inside the Senate Gallery and the Capitol visitor’s center where they held a banner saying “Ferguson to Guantanamo: White Silence = State Violence.”

Lifting our Communities up With a New Economy

When Dr. King was killed he was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign which would highlight poverty and the unfair economy.  He was killed in Memphis working with sanitation workers who were on strike. The same issues of poverty, low wages and an unfair economy plague the United States today.

It is no secret that in addition to the general gaping wealth divide in the US, there is a huge wealth disparity between black and white communities. To make things worse, a new reportdemonstrates that our state tax systems are fundamentally unfair with the poor paying up to seven times more taxes as a percent of income than the wealthy in the worse states, known as the ‘Terrible Ten.’

Sharing EconomyThe good news is that there is greater awareness that the economy is fundamental when it comes down towhose interests are being representedand shifting political power. Communities are creating new economic institutions that are more cooperative and build wealth instead of allowing it to go to a few at the top.

In New York, faith leaders made it clear on inauguration day that the people need jobs with living wages, fair taxation, investment in public education and a stronger social safety net. In Vermont, advocates pushed the state legislature hard for a public bank and wound up with a commitment from the government to invest in local projects.

People in cities across the country, like Reading, PA, are working at the municipal level to put components of the solidarity economy in place such as cooperatives, loans for local small businesses, urban gardening, public banks, re-municipalization of public services, etc.CommonomicsUSA is a new organization that will work with communities to put components of the solidarity economy into place.

1kickThe idea of the new solidarity economy is growing deep roots in the US. Economics students are rejecting the outdated and false paradigm of neo-classical economics and insisting that they learn about economic systems that are more just and sustainable. And more people are rejecting the two corporate political parties and are building independent political power as well. Dr. King was a strong proponent of independent politics.

An Important Battle for Our Future

As we have written before, we are facing a critical challenge early this year that is a game changer for all of us who care about a livable future. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as “NAFTA on steroids,” is an agreement that goes beyond trade to impact everything we care about from our ability to protect our health and safety to our ability to build local economies, stem the tide of privatization, stop extreme energy extraction and protect workers and the environment.

1TPPExpress1We now have the general timetable for the TPP and the Fast Track legislation that Obama is seeking from Congress so that he can conclude negotiations and sign the agreement. We must act quickly. We expect that the President will praise the TPP in his State of the Union Speech on January 20. We’ll need you to flood Congress with calls on January 21 to show that you are not fooled. Go to call Congress and tell others to do the same. Hearings on fast track and another round of negotiations are expected in late January and the bill will be introduced after that.

We can’t emphasize enough how important stopping Fast Track and the TPP are. They really are a game changer that will set our work back for decades if we lose and given the information coming out almost daily telling us how fragile our future is, we don’t have that much time. We urge you to get involved in stopping fast track. This affects everyone and everybody can do something!