For decades, America saw one face of E Jean Carroll.
The sophisticated Elle magazine advice columnist, who was nominated for an Emmy while writing for Saturday Night Live, was pictured at New York media parties or found shopping for “treats” for herself on Fifth Avenue’s luxurious department stores.
In recent days, a New York jury has seen another face. That of a woman hiding away the cost of a dark secret – her alleged rape by Donald Trump more than a quarter of a century ago.
The worlds of Carroll and the nine jurors who are being asked to reach the unprecedented conclusion that a former, and possibly future, president is a rapist are unlikely to have collided. The six men and three women mostly hold blue-collar jobs. Four are Black, including a west African immigrant.
It seems unlikely they shop at high-priced Bergdorf Goodman, where Carroll says she was assaulted, or attended TV studio parties where they were likely to run into Trump back when he was principally known as a real-estate tycoon.
Carroll took to the witness stand in designer clothes, and was at one point asked to explain the meaning of couture, as she described the exclusivity of Bergdorf Goodman, where shoppers are not customers but clients.
But even as Carroll offered a glimpse into that rarefied world during hours of testimony in her civil lawsuit against the former president for battery and defamation, she revealed to the jury a darker universe she has inhabited since Trump allegedly pinned her against a dressing room wall and raped her in 1996.
For 20 years, Carroll did not speak of the alleged attack to anyone but a couple of close friends and, even then, only once and never again.
There was, she said, her public self of the “invincible old lady”. To her readers, she was the glamorous advice columnist, “vibrant, wanting to help everyone”.
And then there was the woman left behind by Trump’s alleged assault. The “private E Jean”.
“That’s the one that can’t admit out loud that there’s been any suffering,” she told the jury as she wept.
Carroll held her composure for most of her long hours of testimony but occasionally it broke. She shed tears as she said the alleged rape destroyed her romantic life at the age of 53.
“If I meet a man who is a possibility, it’s impossible for me to even look at him and smile,” she said.
Carroll described her friends noticing a lack of men in her life, and fixing her up with what she described as the “perfect” date. She said she could not help herself from destroying it by treating him badly.
Asked bluntly if she had had sex since the day Trump allegedly attacked her, Carroll said not.
“I am a happy person, basically. But I’m aware that I have lost out on one of the glorious experiences of any human being. Being in love with somebody else, making dinner with them, walking the dog together. I don’t have that,” she said.
“I’m aware of how much I’ve lost and I feel – here’s the thing – I feel like I should be able to overcome it.”
Instead, she was the agony aunt who did not follow the advice she offered others. Carroll did not seek therapy. The pain was for her alone to see.
Carroll’s lawsuit against Trump is assigned to the very top floor of the towering federal courthouse next to Brooklyn Bridge, where extra security is at work in case the former president decides to turn up and give his version of events. But the banks of television cameras and reporters outside the courthouse were not there to document Carroll’s allegations. The singer Ed Sheeran was testifying five floors below in a copyright dispute.
Carroll was frank about her desire for the company of men – “Oh, I like ’em” she told the jury at one point, to laughter – even if she wrote a book documenting how some, including Trump, mistreated her, and satirically proposing that all males should be shipped to Montana for retraining.
She was not ashamed to admit she was “charmed” by Trump, and was flirting as they browsed through Bergdorf Goodman together on the day he allegedly attacked her, supposedly in search of a gift for a female friend of his. But after she gave a detailed account of Trump’s alleged assault, in which she described him as “rummaging around in my vagina”, she said she now considers him a “brutal, dangerous man”.
As Carroll’s testimony unfolded, it became clear she believes she has been doubly punished.
If Carroll dealt with the suffering privately, hiding her private persona behind the public face of the invincible old lady, her second trauma was enacted under the harshest of spotlights and produced a different kind of devastation.
She went public with her accusation of rape in 2019, three years into Trump’s presidency, encouraged by the #MeToo movement. Carroll had expected Trump to say the encounter was consensual. Instead, he claimed to have no idea who she was, and accused her of making up “false stories of assault to try to get publicity” and to “carry out a political agenda”.
Carroll said a lot of people chose to believe Trump over her.
“It hit me and it laid me low because I lost my reputation. Nobody looked at me the same. It was gone. Even people who knew me looked at me with pity in their eyes, and the people who had no opinion now thought I was a liar and hated me,” she said.
Carroll was fired by Elle magazine after 26 years “because I accused Donald Trump”.
“The force of hatred coming at me was staggering,” she said.
Carroll was so frightened she bought bullets for her gun.
When the attacks died down, Carroll set about rebuilding her professional life and her reputation. She moved her advice column to the online publisher Substack and picked up a few thousand subscribers. It was nothing like the millions of readers she had at Elle, but it was a start.
Then, in October last year, Carroll announced she would sue Trump as soon as a New York state law kicked in permitting victims of sexual assault to pursue civil cases after the statute of limitations has expired.
Trump launched another attack. The former president called her allegations “a complete con job”.
“She completely made up a story that I met her at the doors of this crowded New York City department store and, within minutes, ‘swooned’ her. It is a Hoax and a lie,” Trump wrote on his site, Truth Social.
“And, while I am not supposed to say it, I will. This woman is not my type!”
Carroll said she knew what that meant: “It means I’m too ugly to attack, to rape.”
Carroll said she was “stunned” by Trump’s post, although perhaps she should not have been surprised, given his track record and her previous experience.
“Just when I had managed to get my Substack up and running, and get my career back,” she testified. “I really felt I was gaining back a bit of ground. And then, boom, he knocks me back down again.”
Leading the charge to discredit Carroll’s testimony in court is Joseph Tacopina, the lawyer who also represents Trump in the New York criminal case over hush-money payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels.
Tacopina, whose tightly fitting suit led Carroll to comment that he looked like he worked out, is known for handling difficult cases, including abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, overturning the rapper Meek Mill’s conviction for drug and gun possession, and representing Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the murder of an American woman in Aruba and who was later convicted of another murder in Peru.
But Tacopina struggled to chip away at Carroll’s account, perhaps because his line of questioning at times felt drawn from another age. The lawyer pressed Carroll on why she hadn’t screamed, why she hadn’t gone to the police, why she never let go of her purse through it all.
Carroll was more than irritated.
“You can’t beat up on me for not screaming,” she pushed back. “One of the reasons women don’t come forward is because they are always asked why they didn’t scream.”
Tacopina kept pressing the issue. He said Carroll had offered different explanations for why she didn’t scream, as if her failure to pin down one reason was evidence of dishonesty.
Carroll lost patience.
“I’m telling you, he raped me whether I screamed or not,” she said. “If I was trying to make a lie, I would say I was screaming my head off, but I did not scream. I did not scream.”
Tacopina asked why she had not called the police so many times that the judge told him to stop. Carroll said it was “not odd” for women not to report sexual assault.
“Many women do not go to the police. I understand why,” she said.
Then there were the four-inch heels.
Tacopina was sceptical that Carroll could have been assaulted, and then used her knee to eventually push Trump off, as she tottered atop stilettos.
“I can dance backwards in four-inch heels,” Carroll snorted.
After weathering Trump’s abusive response to her initial accusation and then the lawsuit, the trial brought a fresh wave of hostility when the former president posted a message after the first day calling Carroll’s accusations a “made-up SCAM” and a “witch-hunt”.
Judge Lewis Kaplan warned Trump he may have crossed the line into jury-tampering but the message had already stirred up the former president’s supporters once again.
Carroll told the court she looked at social media.
“I thought I’d take a peek at Twitter, and there it was. The onslaught of ‘liar’, ‘slut’,” she said.
Carroll will be back on the witness stand on Monday to face more of Tacopina’s questions.
But it will be left to the jury to decide whether, on the balance of probabilities, the most controversial American president of modern times is also a rapist.
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