Each woman remembers without a shadow of a doubt exactly what they were wearing the moment they say Donald Trump assaulted them.
For Jessica Leeds, it was a brown wool suit and a silky blouse with a bow tie. After her encounter with Trump, she said she stopped wearing skirts.
For Mindy McGillivray, it was a dark trench coat — “very square, androgynous,” she recalled, pointing out that the coat would not have hugged her figure — and a white scarf.
For E. Jean Carroll, it was a black wool Donna Karan coatdress and patent-leather Barney’s high heels, and no coat. She said she never wore the dress again — not until she dug it out of her closet so she could be photographed for New York Magazine’s cover story last month.
Leeds, McGillivray and Carroll have never met, but they have become familiar with one another’s stories.
And all three are grappling with the same question: What does justice and accountability look like when the man they say attacked them is the most powerful person in the world?
Over the past few years, the #MeToo movement has swept the nation and empowered women to speak out and be heard. Their courageous accounts have forced a public reckoning, toppling some of the most powerful men across media, entertainment, business and government.
The accused have been confronted with a range of consequences. But Trump has remained unscathed by the allegations that more than a dozen women have publicly leveled against him, ranging from unwelcome advances to sexual harassment and assault.
The President has repeatedly and vehemently denied all such allegations, at times even smearing the accusers.
Leeds, McGillivray and Carroll spoke with CNN in recent months in three separate interviews.
McGillivray told CNN that a movement that has empowered so many others has not yet come to her.
“I feel like we are the forgotten ones. I feel like we have been brushed aside and forgotten about,” McGillivray told CNN. “How many women is it going to take for people to go: ‘OK, enough is enough.’ What is it going to really take for people to go, ‘OK, well, you know what? He needs to be held accountable. He can’t go on like this.’ “
‘Trump really is Teflon’
For Leeds, it took place on an airplane in the 1980s: She was seated next to Trump in the first-class cabin, when she says the then-real estate tycoon groped and kissed her before putting his hand up her skirt. For McGillivray, it was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida in 2003: As she stood backstage at a Ray Charles concert, she says Trump grabbed her buttocks. For Carroll, Trump’s latest accuser, it was in the mid-1990s inside of a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in Manhattan: she says Trump held her up against the wall, pushed down her tights and raped her.
Trump’s accusers, including Leeds, McGillivray and Carroll, have cheered on the national moment of reckoning.
But at the same time, they have also watched the man they say attacked them get elected to the highest office in the land and publicly deny — sometimes even mock — their allegations.
Leeds said she is convinced that there is virtually nothing that can pierce Trump’s armor.
“Trump really is Teflon. It just slides right off of him,” she said.
In the same breath that she expressed immense pride over the #MeToo movement, Leeds also sounded resigned to its limitations: “I do recognize that we are, as women, asking a great deal. You know, you don’t ask to share power from people who give it up willingly.”
‘I pointed to the TV … You son of a bitch, you’re a liar!’
In the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election, an explosive “Access Hollywood” tape captured Trump boasting to TV anchor Billy Bush about assaulting women.
“I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything,” Trump said.
Asked point blank by CNN’s Anderson Cooper on the debate stage whether he had “ever done those things,” a defiant Trump answered: “No, I have not.”
For both Leeds and McGillivray, that moment on television was their tipping point.
“I jumped out of my seat and I pointed to the TV and I’m like, you son of a bitch, you’re a liar!” McGillivray recalled.
“I was so angry that I’m standing up and I’m yelling at the TV,” Leeds said. “I didn’t sleep well that night. And the next morning I woke up and I opened up my door to grab the newspaper and I thought, ‘I know what I’ll do, I’ll write a letter to the editor.’ “
Leeds’ allegation soon published in The New York Times. Other accusations against Trump trickled out in the following months. Then, a year after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, the Times published a bombshell exposé on decades of sexual misconduct covered up by producer Harvey Weinstein and his associates. The floodgates opened, unleashing thousands of confessions of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault bearing the #MeToo hashtag.
Carroll said it was around this time that her own moment came — when readers began to flood her inbox for the “Ask E. Jean” advice column. They wanted to know whether they, too, should report bosses who sexually harassed them, speak out about abusive spouses or report years-old assault to the police.
Confronted with these questions, Carroll said it began to dawn on her that she had been in denial not only about her violent encounter with Trump, but other sexual abuse she had experienced over the years.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so full of malarkey. I’ve got to get straight with my own readers.’ It was plaguing me,” she said. “It was because of the women.”
‘There’s a way. Because women are angry’
While the circumstances surrounding Trump’s alleged attacks on each woman vary, there were also distinct similarities in the stories they each told about those encounters — and what came after.
None of the three women reported their alleged attacks to the police at the time. And they’ve all faced backlash — on the internet, on social media and in phone calls, including from angry supporters of the President. McGillivray said she has received death threats.
Each of the women has different ideas of what accountability for Trump would look like.
Carroll said she wants jail time “for the rest of his life.” She also told CNN that the Donna Karan dress she was wearing some three decades ago is now being examined by private investigators, though she declined to elaborate.
Leeds said she would feel better if Trump lost reelection in 2020, or better yet, if he quit before the end of his first term. McGillivray said she could imagine feeling some sense of peace if the President were to issue an apology.
“I’m sorry for making you uncomfortable, I’m sorry for disrespecting you or hurting you in any way,” she said. “That would help me.”
When asked about Trump’s accusers who might believe that they have been left behind by the #MeToo movement, Carroll said while she agrees that those stories have not yet fully come to the fore, that eventually, they will.
“There is a way. I know there’s a way. Because women are angry,” she said. “And so if we can change this one little segment of the accusers of Donald Trump, it will be a massive victory. I just have to figure out how to do it.”