Politicians on both sides of the aisle excoriated Donald Trump after a lewd audio recording of him in 2005 leaked Friday.
In it, Trump brags about being able to “grab” women by the p—y because of his fame.
In fact, many prominent Republicans —some of whom characterized Trump’s admission as sexual assault — withdrew their endorsements in never-before-seen numbers.
Most notably, former Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona dropped his support after the leak and called Trump’s comments “boasts about sexual assault.”
Despite such widespread disgust and claims that Trump admitted to assaulting women, his actions, if true, may not constitute sexual assault by legal standards.
“Regardless of how shocking and horrific Donald Trump’s words about ‘grab them by the p—–, you can do anything’ are, and whether or not Trump actually engaged in the behavior he described or was boasting, the activity itself does not necessarily constitute the criminal or civil offense of sexual assault,” George Washington University public interest law professor John Banzhaf wrote in a press release.
Banzhaf explained that Trump’s qualifier before the statement — "and when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything" — implies there was consent.
“If she encouraged and cooperated in his sexual advances because he was a 'star’ whom she wanted for whatever reason to please — as he implied by the words 'they let you do it’ — then, as unseemly as the scenario might be, it would probably not constitute sexual assault,” Banzhaf continued.
Banzhaf, however, outlined a scenario in which Trump might be guilty of sexual assault.
“For example, if Trump suddenly and without any warning reached out and grabbed a woman’s crotch or breast, it would rather clearly constitute sexual assault,” he said.
“Similarly, if instead of acting suddenly and without warning, Trump reached slowly to put his hand on a woman’s knee, and then equally slowly slid it up her thigh to her crotch without any verbal or non-verbal complaint or objection from the woman, it is likely that a jury would find that there was implied consent, and therefore no assault.”
Banzhaf's legal expertise is interesting to note, especially as questions have swirled around whether Trump implicated himself as a sex offender.
For example, Anderson Cooper, who co-moderated Sunday’s debate, challenged Trump to admit that his actions were akin to sexual assault.
“You described kissing women without their consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”
In response to the leak, the hashtag #notokay began trending on social media as well, as women shared their experience with sexual assault.
In a statement to Business Insider, Banzhaf went on to describe Trump’s comments as shocking and “gross” but clarified that his attempt to fact check some of the responses, from a legal perspective, is warranted.
He continued in the release:
“Without detracting in any way from the shocking and outrageous nature of Trump’s recorded comments, efforts to insist that such actions must necessarily constitute a criminal or even civil wrong, and that he and/or others must concede as much, may go to far in light of his 'when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”