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Why E. Jean Carroll spoke up about Trump

E. Jean Carroll tore through the doors of the Fifth Avenue entrance of Bergdorf Goodman, her heart racing.

Carroll, a journalist and the host of the “Ask E. Jean” television show at the time, had taped a segment that day in 1996 at a studio in Fort Lee, N.J. When it ended around 5 p.m., she decided to go to Manhattan to shop.

From the sidewalk, she phoned Lisa Birnbach, a friend and author of “The Official Preppy Handbook.” Carroll was laughing at first as she described an encounter she said she had just had in a Bergdorf dressing room with Donald Trump that began as cheeky banter. But what she was saying didn’t strike Birnbach as funny. “I remember her being very overwrought,” Birnbach said. “I remember her repeatedly saying, ‘He pulled down my tights, he pulled down my tights.’” When Carroll finished her account, Birnbach said, “‘I think he raped you.’”

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“Let’s go to the police,” she recalled telling Carroll. But Carroll refused. A day or two later, she described the episode to another friend, Carol Martin, a TV host at the same network. She advised Carroll to stay silent.

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The women didn’t speak about it again until Carroll began preparing for her forthcoming book, they said. It became public last week when Carroll, in a New York magazine excerpt from the book, accused Trump of sexually assaulting her years ago. It was the most serious of multiple allegations women have made against him, all of which he has denied.

Birnbach and Martin, who haven’t previously spoken publicly about Carroll’s account, say they are doing so now to bolster their friend.

Trump has said that Carroll was “totally lying,” that he didn’t know her and that “she’s not my type.”

In media interviews in recent days, Carroll has been confident. Asked on MSNBC why she made her accusation in a book, she replied: “What? A woman is not allowed to take a pen and put it to a piece of paper?” On CNN, she explained why she preferred the word “fight” to “rape”: “I think most people think rape is sexy. Think of the fantasies.” (She explained later that she was referring to romance novels that depict men ravishing women. “This was not thrilling, this was a fight,” she said. “A fight where I’m stamping on his feet and I think I’m banging him on the head with my purse.”)

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In her book, “What Do We Need Men For?,” which comes out Tuesday, Carroll describes “hideous men” in her life. The list includes former CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves, who she said groped her in an elevator when she interviewed him for a 1997 Esquire story. (Moonves has denied her account .)

More than a dozen former colleagues, relatives, and friends interviewed by The Times attested to Carroll’s credibility.

Why speak up now? If not when it happened, why not in 2016, when more than 10 other women came forward accusing Trump of sexual improprieties? Or when the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he bragged about assaulting women, was revealed?

Carroll said the “Access Hollywood” tape and the allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump did not compel her to speak about her own experience with him. If anything, said Carroll, she figured the accusations made Trump appear strong in the eyes of his supporters. “I suspected it was helping,” she said.