Verifying Donald Trump's accusers' stories

Careful handling of allegations against Trump.

Accusation after accusation claims that Donald Trump engaged in inappropriate behavior. Either the accusations are true or they're false. 

How much of a role is the media playing in giving women the platform to level the accusations, and what are the risks associated when the allegations have not been independently verified? 

"These claims are all fabricated. They're pure fiction and they're outright lies," said Trump. 

The Republican nominee for President painted his accusers as liars who are unattractive. 

"You take a look. Look at her, look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don't think so." 

That was Trump's response to an accusation leveled by Natasha Stoynoff, a People Magazine reporter who claimed Trump forcibly kissed her during an interview while a pregnant Melania Trump was upstairs.  

Shannon Rich is the director of public policy for the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence. She said she is troubled by the characterization that the accusers are liars.

"Any time we have a case where it's a very high-profile person being accused of whether it's sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence, the automatic response is, 'Well they must be lying.'" 

Rich went on to say that as a society, "We don't start from that place of believing, and that's the place that we should be starting."

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice" became the latest accuser. Zervos claims Trump kissed her on the lips twice when she later met with him. 

Trump responded in a statement that read in part: "I vaguely remember Ms. Zervos as one of the many contestants on The Apprentice over the years. To be clear, I never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago. That is not who I am as a person, and it is not how I've conducted my life. In fact, Ms. Zervos continued to contact me for help, emailing my office on April 14th of this year asking that I visit her restaurant in California." 

The Trump camp calls it a media smear campaign. He's claiming lawsuits are currently being drafted against media outlets who give his accusers a platform to level their accusations. 

Phoenix attorney Kraig Marton weighed in on the controversy. 

"Your job as media is to tell the story as you see it and to be fair. So if you report someone says Trump sexually harassed her and you get Trump's side of the story where he denies it, you've done your job. You've told the public what you need to," Marton said. 

He also added that many women don't come forward with allegations of sexual harassment at the time the incident takes place, adding that there are a lot of consequences of bringing a sexual harassment lawsuit.

For instance, he said if it's in the workplace and you file suit against your employer, it could be hard to get another job when it's discovered you sued your employer. Marton also said filing a sexual harassment lawsuit can be expensive to pursue.

"It's hard to get a lawyer to take a case on a contingency where the lawyer takes the risk. And at the end of the day, after all that time, effort and money, you may not win." 

He said more often than not, sexual harassment lawsuits are "he said, she said." And in the end, it's a toss-up when you go in front of the jury. Marton said that's why many women choose not to pursue them. 

"When you choose to run for President, you're at the highest level of scrutiny one can imagine. And the courts recognize that he's called a public figure for all purposes, and that means he's fair game. Unless you are intentionally lying about him, the media is safe."

Marton has more than three decades of experience litigating sexual harassment claims in addition to defamation claims and more. 

He said if Trump files suit against his accusers, they in turn, could counter-sue him for defamation after he called them liars. 

Trump's statement also says: "Beyond that, the media is now creating a theater of absurdity that threatens to tear our democratic process apart and poison the minds of the American public." It also says, "unfounded accusations are treated as fact, with reporters throwing due diligence and fact-finding to the side in a rush to file their stories first, it's evident that we truly are living in a broken system." 

Copyright 2016 KPNX


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