I have a new hero, a warrior who stood up to powerful forces, who persisted despite seemingly impossible odds for years, a warrior who fought misogyny, slander, and smear and won. You know that individual: E. (for Elizabeth) Jean Carroll.
On Tuesday, May 16, a jury of six men and three women came back with a verdict in fewer than three hours. They found Donald Trump liable for sexual harassment and defamation and awarded E. Jean Carroll a total of nearly $5 million. While the jury rejected a finding of rape, the sexual harassment verdict was a stand-out victory for Carroll and her legal team.
Responses to the trial’s outcome varied widely. Joe Tacopina, Trump’s attorney, said the verdict would be appealed; E. Jean’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, insisted there is little on which to base an appeal. Kaplan believes legal matters will be resolved within a year.
Most prominent Republicans either declined comment or claimed they weren’t familiar with the details. There were a few like Sen. Mitt Romney who concluded Trump is “not suited to be president of the United States.” Texas Sen. John Cornyn said, “I don’t think he can get elected.” Possible presidential contender Chris Christie asked, “How many coincidences are we going to have with Donald Trump and accept him for something we call a leader?” Another contender, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said it was “another example of the indefensible behavior of Donald Trump.”
Hometown newspapers were not sympathetic to their native son. Wednesday’s New York Daily News carried a front page shot of Donald Trump with a two-inch-high caption: “Sex Abuser.” The New York Post printed a full-page picture of Donald with an insert of E. Jean and a banner that read: “Grab Him by the Wallet.”
But Trump had a cabal of staunch defenders. Sen. Marco Rubio said, “The jury is a joke. The whole case is a joke.” Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville said, “It makes me want to vote for him twice.” Predictably Trump took to social media and alleged, “I have no idea who this woman is. The verdict is a disgrace, a continuance of the greatest witch hunt of all time.” Trump continued that brutal vitriol when fulminating against Carroll and the verdict during a CNN “town hall” interview at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, on Wednesday night.
Carroll, a journalist, advice columnist, and author, first sued Trump for defamation in 2019 over his branding of an incident that occurred in the 1990s in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room. The Adult Survivors Act law signed by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2022 allowed survivors to sue for damages regardless of when the abuse was said to have occurred. Since then, Carroll has soldiered ahead, navigated past Trump delaying tactics, and won her day in court.
Although Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Federal District Court in Manhattan described the lawsuit as a “he said, she said” case, Carroll’s version was corroborated by Lisa Birnbach, to whom she placed a harried call within minutes of the incident. Carroll had other defenders including testimony from Dr. Leslie Lebowitz, a Massachusetts clinical psychologist, who explained aspects of Carroll’s response such as her failure to scream or report the incident to the police. In addition two women testified about incidents that seemed to confirm Trump’s pattern of aggressive sexual harassment.
But perhaps the most telling witnesses on Carroll’s behalf — one who helped convince the jury — was Trump himself. Screening of the Access Hollywood clip that surfaced during the 2016 presidential campaign showed Trump bragging, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” including grabbing women’s genitals. During Trump’s videotaped deposition he was forced to admit he was “a star.” Further, when Trump was shown in a picture along with his first wife and E. Jean Carroll, he mistakenly took the advice columnist for his second wife, Marla Maples. His error refuted claims he’s made that Carroll “isn’t my type.”
In her complaint, Carroll says she kept quiet about the attack for decades because she feared Trump would bury her in threats and lawsuits. She also said she blamed herself for what happened and believed strong women should minimize their suffering and move forward. This attitude, referenced by Dr. Lebowitz, is a typical response of survivors.
What is far less than typical is that Carroll became willing to level a public accusation and doggedly pursue legal accountability. Many women lack the platform, the privilege, and resources to even attempt what she has done. Carroll’s victory was a long time coming, but the results have justified the wait. E. Jean helped raise awareness of the issue of sexual harassment and has empowered wronged women to come forward. She stood up for herself. And now, in the tradition of #MeToo, she stood up for other women and won. A heroine is born!