Donald Trump Jr. took a moment out of his busy schedule on Monday to suggest that the investigation in Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged history of sexual violence made him worry for his children. Did he voice concern that his two daughters might one day be sexually assaulted by drunken prep school boys? Of course not. Trump Jr. said he worried that his three sons could be victims of false rape allegations. Even putting aside the clear implication that Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony shouldn’t be taken serious, Trump Jr.’s statement was bizarre. Two percent of rape allegations are proven false. Some 16.6 percent of women are targeted by rapists.
On a purely statistical level, Trump Jr. should be more concerned that his boys will assault a girl or woman than that they will be accused of doing so. But that sort of thinking requires the emotional maturity to contextualize news events with data and empathy. This is not a strength of Trump the younger. But, to be fair, it’s not a strength of his father either. In fact, the elder Trump recently lamented to the White House press corps that even “somebody that was perfect your entire life,” could be accused of sexual assault and see it all crumble.
It’s probably fair to say that no father believes he will raise boys who will perpetuate sexual violence against women. But many fathers do. Consider for a moment that nearly one of every four undergraduate women reported being the victim of unwanted sexual activity. How many of those perpetrators have proud fathers at home? How many of those fathers are worried more about rape accusations than their boys’ behavior?
Is it the fault of these confused fathers that their kids commit acts of sexual violence? Of course not. Life is not that simple. There are a tremendous amount of factors that play into whether or not a guy commits a sexual assault. Research shows that ideas of masculinity, issues of mental health, intoxication, opportunity, and peer groups all play a role. Parenting can only control for so many of those factors. Still, it can control for some. Parents that worry about accusations over actions aren’t helping and they could be. It’s a wildly irresponsible — and statistically stupid — stance.
If our current cultural moment has shown parents anything, it’s that we need to make lessons about sexual assault for young men both explicit and common. Fathers can play a huge role in that if they’re brave enough to do so.
Perhaps, in the short term, those lessons might scare some boys. That’s fine. The broader good certainly justifies spooking some kids — especially if it convinces them that their actions will have consequences and that those consequences won’t be the product of women being dishonest. A simple lesson about cause and effect could go quite far.
If Donald Trump Jr. does not want his boys to be accused of sexual assault, his best bet is to talk to his sons about sexual assault and makes sure that they understand consent and consequences. And maybe that’s happening behind closed doors. It’s impossible to know. What is clear, however, is that Trump Jr. is willing to publicly use his boys as a cheap political prop. That doesn’t teach such a great lesson either.