Home > NewsRelease > Stop Calling it an "Affair"; It Was a Coerced Encounter
Stop Calling it an "Affair"; It Was a Coerced Encounter
Shel Horowitz, Marketing Consultant - Going Beyond Sustainability Shel Horowitz, Marketing Consultant - Going Beyond Sustainability
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Springfield, MA
Saturday, June 1, 2024


Media has it wrong about Stormy Daniels' night with Trump

Trigger Warning: This post discusses my history as a survivor of separate instances of rape and sexual coercion.

Did Trump cheat on his wife with Stormy Daniels? Yes. Was it an affair? No. Does this matter? Absolutely, and I'll explain why.

My venerable paper copy of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged defines affair in this context as "an intense amorous relationship, usually of short duration." Dictionary.com copies all the Random House definitions verbatim (it's definition #6). Microsoft Word's dictionary calls it "a sexual relationship between two people, one or both of whom are married to or in a long-term relationship with someone else." The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as "a sexual relationship, especially a secret one."

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Note that all three definitions include "relationship" and the first says it has to be "intense" and "amorous."

Daniels' evening with Trump was not a relationship, and the amorousness went in only one direction. They had met casually and he'd asked her to have dinner with him. She says she accepted because her PR agent said it might be career-building and she did not have sex on her mind. Neither did he appear to at first, until she came back from the bathroom and found him on the bed, down to his undies. At best, it was a first date. At worst, it could be considered sexually harassing behavior.

It was not rape. Unlike the myriad of his other accusers, she never claimed that she didn't consent. She consistently says that she was reluctant, was not enthusiastic, and felt so ashamed afterward that she was shaking as she got dressed again.

I would consider this interaction a coercive sexual encounter, if for no other reason than because of the power dynamics. One party is a rich and famous man in his late 50s, of towering (and intimidating) physical stature, with a bodyguard on the other side of the door. The other, a woman in her 20s and not overly familiar with the centers of power, is known only in a socially marginalized (though extremely popular) industry that has low credibility with mainstream media and mainstream morality.

He has all the power. And if she still has any illusions that he might help her career, she's going to get on that bed even if she doesn't really want to. For her, it was transactional; for him, it may have been notching a conquest or some kind of boost to his fragile ego. I can only speculate on his reasons, because despite the massive evidence, he denies the incident ever took place

I survived a rape, grabbed off the street by a stranger and dragged to a stairwell at age 10 or 11 (yes, it happens to boys—more of us than you probably think). I also survived a coercive sexual encounter at age 18 with a creepy 53-year-old man who'd made no secret of his desire to get into my pants. Like Stormy's encounter with Trump, it was not rape because I was not in a position to withhold consent. And like that notorious encounter, it made me feel like total crap.

I had also, at that point, had a months-long actual affair with a man ten years older than me and several consensual one-nighters.

It's not hard to tell the difference among these four types of encounters. The affair was mutual. It was delightful. It was a relationship. The consensual one-nighters were fun but did not lead to an ongoing relationship. For some of them, I wished it had continued—but that wasn't the other person's agenda.

The coerced encounter was not fun. It was unpleasant but in that moment I saw it as unavoidable. I have far more resources and communication skills these days and would handle it differently now, almost forty years later. While it was disgusting, it didn't create long-term trauma. But the rape was traumatic, with consequences that lasted many decades and are not completely done yet. I couldn't even bring myself to tell anyone for several years, and I never told my parents. It remains, after more than 50 years, the worst day of my life.

Neither being raped nor being coerced into sex is anything I would ever characterize as an affair. There is no relationship. There is not even any mutuality.

With this lens, with this history, you can understand why it has upset me since Daniels first went public that so many people who should know better, including many journalists, use the wrong term. Just the first results page from an Ecosia.org (tree-planting search engine) search for "stormy daniels affair" brought hits from the New York Times, BBC, NPR, NBC's Chicago affiliate, and CNN. Now, with the trial verdict, it's back in the news and I'm finally ready to call out these journalists. They are making it sound like love was involved, that these were two people who cared about it each other. But they didn't.

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