Fact Check

Did Sexual Assault Allegations Against Donald Trump Only Start With the 2016 Election?

Although many women accused then-candidate Trump of sexual assault during the 2016 election, that wasn't the first time that he faced these sorts of allegations.

Published Dec 14, 2017

Donald Trump was not accused of sexual assault until he ran for President in 2016.

On 7 October 2016, The Washington Post released audio of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump having a lewd conversation with Access Hollywood's Billy Bush in 2005. In it, Trump can be heard making several comments, such as "I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything" and "Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Many interpreted these comments to be admissions of sexual assault.

More than a dozen women came forward in the aftermath of the tape's release with stories of the presidential candidate sexually assaulting them. Among his accusers were  a contestant in a pageant he runs and a former contestant on his reality show. One prominent accusation during that time came from a woman who sued saying when she was 13 Trump allegedly solicited her for sex acts at a sex party in 1994.

In an apparent attempt to discredit these women and their stories, the Facebook page "Capitalists" posted a meme in November 2016 claiming that Trump had never been accused of sexual assault until he started campaigning against Hillary Clinton:

This meme was recirculated in December 2017 after three of Trump's accusers joined together to call on congress to launch a bipartisan investigation into the matter. Although an official investigation has not been launched as of this writing, lawmakers such as Kristin Gillibrand have also started pushing for an investigation into Trump's alleged sexual misconduct.

Although Trump had toyed with running for president prior to the most recent election, the meme specifies "ran against Hillary." Trump formally announced that he was running for president against her in June 2015. (Clinton announced in April of that year.)

Although the majority of the 19 women accusing Trump of sexual assault did so publicly for the first time after this date, at least two women accused Trump of sexual assault before the start of his 2016 presidential campaign.

Ivana Trump's Court Deposition in 1989:

Ivana Trump, Donald's first wife, used the word "rape" under oath during a court deposition to describe an alleged violent sexual encounter with her soon-to-be ex-husband. Ivana's testimony was described in the 1993 book Lost Tycoon by Newsweek reporter Harry Hurt III:

After a painful scalp reduction surgery to remove a bald spot, Donald Trump confronted his then-wife, who had previously used the same plastic surgeon.

“Your fucking doctor has ruined me!” Trump cried.

What followed was a “violent assault,” according to Lost Tycoon. Donald held back Ivana’s arms and began to pull out fistfuls of hair from her scalp, as if to mirror the pain he felt from his own operation. He tore off her clothes and unzipped his pants.

“Then he jams his penis inside her for the first time in more than sixteen months. Ivana is terrified… It is a violent assault,” Hurt writes. “According to versions she repeats to some of her closest confidantes, ‘he raped me.'"

Ivana Trump released a statement shortly before this book was published to clarify that although she did truly use the word "rape" during her deposition, she did not mean it in a "literal" or "criminal sense":

When Lost Tycoon was about to be printed, Donald Trump and his lawyers provided a statement from Ivana, which was posted on the first page of the book. In it, Ivana confirms that she had “felt violated” and that she had stated that her husband had raped her during a divorce deposition. But Ivana sought to soften her earlier statement.

“During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me,” the Ivana Trump statement said. “[O]n one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”

The statement, according to a “Notice to the Reader” in the book, “does not contradict or invalidate any information contained in this book.”

According to a 1990 article from The New York Times, Ivana ultimately cited "cruel and inhuman treatment by Mr. Trump" as grounds for the divorce.

Jill Harth's Lawsuit in 1997:

Jill Harth, who at the time went by Jill Harth Houraney, filed a lawsuit in 1997 in which she accused Trump, among other things, of attempted rape.

Harth's 12-page complaint listed several incidents in which Trump allegedly sexually assaulted her. Harth claimed that Trump treated her like a sexual object, expressed his interest to exploit her as a sex slave, demanded that she sleep with him, groped her during a business dinner party, and attempted to rape her:

After Trump business associates left, the defendant (Trump) over the plaintiff’s (Harth's) objections forcibly prevented plaintiff from leaving and forcibly removed plaintiff to a bedroom, whereupon defendant subjected plaintiff to defendant’s unwanted sexual advances, which included touching of plaintiff’s private parts in an act constituting attempted “rape.”

Harth also provided several accounts of Trump mistreating other women.

Trump denied the allegations. According to Law and Crime, the lawsuit was "voluntarily dismissed" but “without prejudice,” meaning that Harth could have decided to refile the lawsuit at a later date.

Relying on anonymous sources, the New York Daily News reported at the time that the matter ended with a six-figure payout:

The case was due to go to trial on July 17 in Manhattan Federal Court, but yesterday sources familiar with the deal said Trump had agreed to a six-figure payout. One source described the settlement as "peanuts. Just their legal fees. Donald is very happy.

Widespread Accusations of Sexism:

In addition to these two alleged incidents of forced sexual contact, the President was also repeatedly accused of sexism before he ran against Hillary Clinton. Although the following incidents focus on sexism and not necessarily sexual assault, they are worth mentioning as the meme suggests that Trump's alleged poor treatment of women didn't begin until the 2016 election.

Former beauty queen Carrie Prejean described how contestants were subjected to the "Trump Rule," a pre-contest ritual in which Trump and his staff would evaluate the contestants based on appearance, in her 2009 book:

“Many of the girls found this exercise humiliating,” Prejean wrote. “Some of the girls were sobbing backstage after [Trump] left, devastated to have failed even before the competition really began . . . even those of us who were among the chosen couldn’t feel very good about it — it was as though we had been stripped bare.”

In 2011, the Washington Post used the "Trump Rule" as a jumping off point to list several other instances that allegedly displayed Trump's sexism:

The world was reminded of the Trump Rule earlier this month, when New York Times columnist Gail Collins published a piece detailing how “The Donald,” in a fit of pique worthy of gossip blogger Perez Hilton, once sent her a copy of her column with the words “Face of a Dog!” scrawled on top of her picture. Collins, it should be noted, is just one of many targets of Trump’s gender-specific hostility: Last year, the master media manipulator was accused of asking the men on “The Apprentice” to rate their female peers, based on appearance, just one of a number of sexist decisions he’s made over the show’s 11 seasons. (“I bet you make a great wife,” one contestant says he told her in 2005.)

No one is above his reproach. In 2007, commenting on a spat Angelina Jolie was having with her father, Jon Voight, Trump disparaged the actress’s sexual history (“she’s been with so many guys”) and told Larry King, “I just don’t even find her attractive.”


Not that Trump cares. “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of [expletive],” he told a writer for Esquire in 1991.

Trump was also accused of of sexist practices when employees of the Trump National Golf Club filed a a class action lawsuit in 2008. Although the bulk of the lawsuit dealt with the club's break policies, unpaid reimbursements, and supervisors receiving tips, Lucy Messerschmidt, who was employed as a host at one of the club's restaurants, said that she would be taken off shifts when Trump was on the premises because he liked to see "fresh faces" and "young girls." The Los Angeles Times reported:

“Donald Trump always wanted good looking women working at the club,” said Sue Kwiatkowski, a restaurant manager at the club until 2009, in a declaration. "I know this because one time he took me aside and said, ‘I want you to get some good looking hostesses here. People like to see good looking people when they come in.’ ”

As a result, Kwiatkowski said, "I and the other managers always tried to have our most attractive hostesses working when Mr. Trump was in town and going to be on the premises."

The lawsuit was settled in 2013 when the club agreed, without admitting wrongdoing, to pay $475,000 to the employees.

Strength in numbers:

This meme makes the demonstrably false claim that President Trump was never accused of sexual assault prior to the 2016 election. He was accused of sexual assault during a 1989 court deposition, and again in 1997 lawsuit.

It's worth noting that although it's true that the majority of sexual assault claims levied against the president weren't made public until the 2016 election, this doesn't necessarily mean that Trump's accusers were politically motivated, as suggested by the meme.

Victims of sexual assault may decide to keep their stories private for many reasons. In light of the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, for instance, many women have said that they didn't initially come forward because they were afraid of how it would affect their careers and personal lives. A 2003 study has shown that "75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.” In addition to fearing the repercussions of accusing a powerful person of sexual assault, many victims wrestle with the simple fact that the public may not believe their story.

But as more and more women came forward in 2017 to accuse politicians, producers, and businessman of sexually assault, and more importantly, story after story about those men getting fired, resigning, or simply being shunned, the prospect of coming forward became more plausible for some. Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), an anti-sexual-violence group, noted that when one woman comes forward to speak about sexual abuse, other victims may find the courage to do the same:

“The more cases like Weinstein, where victims are able to see that the community is on their side and is willing to believe them when they come forward, I think that has a long-term positive impact and encourages many more people to come forward,”  said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), an anti-sexual-violence group.

Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women–New York, reiterated this sentiment in an interview with Self:

"When one woman breaks the silence, others are empowered to tell their [stories] [...] Together those stories paint the full picture and create an environment where victims are more likely to be believed."

In Trump's case, the majority of women accusing him of sexual assault came forward in October 2016 after the Access Hollywood tape was released. At the time, the language of the tape was being condemned by political parties on both sides of the aisle, and public opinion of the candidate appeared to take a hit. It's in this climate that most of Trump's sexual accusers came forward with their stories.

This meme is strikingly similar to another claim we debunked which argued that President Trump was never accused of being racist until he ran for president.

As with that declaration of innocence, however, we found that these accusations of racism were not the political manifestations of a contentious election. In fact, Trump has faced legal action in regard to discrimination laws and was accused of making racist remarks by former employees, committee members, and protesters long before his successful presidential bid in 2016.

President Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct by nearly 20 women. Although the majority of those accusations were made public after the start of his 2016 presidential campaign, at least two of those accusations were made long before Trump had a career in politics.


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Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.