E. Jean Carroll, the woman who is suing former president Donald Trump in federal court for allegedly raping—and then defaming—her, testified on Wednesday, breaking down in tears multiple times as she described the alleged incident that took place at a New York City Bergdorf Goodman in 1996.
Her testimony, which went on for hours, described in detail how Trump physically pinned her down and raped her, and how it devastated her and made it impossible for her to have romantic relationships ever since.
Carroll first went public with the accusation in 2019, when she published a book that included the story. Trump immediately called her a liar and said she was “not my type.” Carroll testified that she has received floods of hate, online and in the mail, and at least 10 “serious” threats to her life. She said on the stand that she had even purchased ammunition for a gun she owns. Carroll also said that she was fired from her job as an advice columnist at Elle magazine, and that she has lost her reputation.
After testifying for several hours, Carroll’s attorney asked her if she had regretted going public with her story. Carroll paused but then attempted to answer.
“I regretted it about 100 times, but in the end,” Carroll said, pausing as she broke down into tears, “being able to get my day in court…I’m crying, but I got to tell my story in court.”
The day started with Carroll describing how she was raised in Indiana in a family that prized a cheerful attitude and a positive outlook on life, where she was taught to move past unhappy things and act as if they didn’t happen. She described her ascent in media, rising to become a nationally published advice columnist with a twice-weekly national television show in which she also dispensed wisdom.
On that day in 1996, Carroll headed to Bergdorf Goodman after taping a show. She was leaving the store when she saw Trump entering. She had met him before—a photo her attorneys produced shows a meeting at an event where the two are chatting with their respective spouses at the time. Carroll said she had seen him on the street, and generally liked him and found him attractive. She described him as charming and funny, and said he invited her to give him advice on buying a present for a woman. Carroll described how much fun she was having—how engaging she found Trump, even when he suggested they go to the lingerie department.
There, she said, Trump held up a see-through body-suit and told her to try it on.
“I said, ‘You put it on, it’s your color,’” Carroll testified. She admitted she was flirting with him, and said they both were enjoying themselves. “He said, ‘Let’s go try it on.’”
Carroll said it was actually a very funny situation, and she was imagining it as fodder for a fun piece about New York life. “Donald Trump was being very light, it was very joshing and pleasant, and very funny,” she recalled. “Yes, I was flirting the whole time. The comedy was escalating. I didn’t picture anything about what was about to happen.”
Then, Carroll said, he directed her toward an open dressing room door and she went in. After that, Carroll testified, Trump attacked her, lunging to slam her against the wall, pin her there with his body weight, and pull down her stockings.
“That open door has plagued me for years, because I just walked into it,” Carroll said on the stand.
While pinned to the wall, she said she was still laughing. “I continued to laugh. I thought for a minute it was a mistake,” she said. “I continued to laugh just in case he thought it was something intimate happening.”
Realizing it was a serious situation, Carroll said she began trying to fight back, and stamp her feet and push Trump off, but he reached his hand under her skirt.
“His hand, his finger went into my vagina, which was extremely painful. It was a horrible feeling,” Carroll testified. “He put his hand inside me and curved his finger. As a I sit here today, I can still feel it. Then he inserted his penis.”
On the stand on Wednesday, Carroll began to cry again as her attorney continued to question her about what happened next. Carroll said she was able to break free and she quickly left the store and called a friend, Lisa Birnbach, and told her what had happened. Carroll said she was still so stunned she laughed as she told Birnbach about the incident.
“Lisa said, ‘E. Jean, I don’t think this is funny,’” Carroll recalled. “She said, ‘He raped you E. Jean, you should go to the police!’ I said no way!”
She said at the time she struggled with feelings of guilt and shame. “I was ashamed, I thought it was my fault,” she testified. “Because I was flirting with him, because I was laughing. It was high comedy, it was funny and then to have it turn into that…” Carroll trailed off. She told Birnbach to never mention the incident again.
Another friend, Carroll testified, gave her the opposite advice, and Carroll took it. “Keep it to yourself, he has 200 lawyers, he’ll bury you,” Carroll recalled her friend saying.
For much of the rest of her testimony, Carroll talked about how her life has been affected by the rape. Her attorneys also probed her on areas where Trump’s attorneys are likely to attack her tomorrow—questions about why she doesn’t remember the exact date, why she didn’t write about the alleged incident in her diary, and how she continued to work as an advice columnist for decades, work in which she regularly advised women to report sexual abuse, and launched two dating websites, despite saying she was unable to have her own romantic relationships.
“It was very stupid, it changed me,” Carroll said of the rape. “I know people have been through a lot worse, but it left me unable to ever have a romantic life again.”
Asked if she ever followed any of the advice she regularly gives women who write to her reporting sexual abuse, Carroll shook her head. “I didn’t do a single one of them,” she said. “I’m not as smart as I think I am.”
Carroll said she has very different public and private personas. “I have a public self, which is vibrant and working to help everyone,” she said, beginning to cry again. “And then I have a private self and that’s the one that can’t admit out loud that there’s been any suffering…She gets to be quiet and doesn’t have to be the invincible old lady.”
After she went public, Carroll testified she was shocked at Trump’s response and the level of public vitriol that was aimed at her. She said she expected he would simply say the alleged encounter was consensual, rather than denying it ever happened. “It means that besides me being a liar and a woman out to sell books, I’m also too ugly to attack,” Carroll said. “Too ugly to rape.”
Carroll will finish testifying on Thursday, but not before Trump’s attorneys have an opportunity to cross-examine her.