RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Advocates for survivors of sexual assault say there's been a spike in calls for support. It happened after the release last week of a videotape of Donald Trump bragging about groping women. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports that the tape and the political debate around it can be tough to hear for some who have been assaulted or raped.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: The Washington, D.C., advocacy group RAINN runs the country's biggest sexual assault hotline. Vice president Brian Pinero says online traffic jumped 33 percent over the weekend.
BRIAN PINERO: At times we had 20, 30 people holding. We actually doubled our staff, had to start calling people in to come and talk.
LUDDEN: There was also an outpouring on Twitter as thousands of women around the world shared their stories of sexual assault and rape. In Texas, Meagan Hatton found it oddly comforting to know she was not alone in that experience.
MEAGAN HATTON: I actually talked about it for the first time on Sunday.
LUDDEN: Before that, Hatton had kept all these stories deep inside - an assault by a teenager when she was just 5 years old, a man groping her in a movie theater, a rape by someone who was drunk and this year, she says, a sexual assault by a guy she was dating. Hatton says it's been difficult to hear the video of Trump joking about grabbing women.
HATTON: I mean, it kind of, like, brought, like, flashbacks. It's like a horror story. Anyone that's experienced something like that - it's kind of traumatizing to hear people talk about it so lightheartedly.
LUDDEN: During the second presidential debate, she says at times, she could hardly bear to look at Trump.
HATTON: You want to turn the other way because you don't see them the same anymore.
LUDDEN: In Virginia, Zarmeena understands. She says she was raped five years ago. Because her family worries about stigma, she only wants to use her first name. And NPR only names sexual assault survivors with their permission. Zarmeena did not listen to the Trump tape at all.
ZARMEENA: Because I didn't think that I really had it in me without getting too emotional about it.
LUDDEN: But she does want to follow the presidential campaign and finds that difficult now that sexual assault is so wrapped up in it.
ZARMEENA: It's kind of like learning to pick and choose your mental and emotional battles for the day. When I'm looking at, obviously, the news on TV, it's going to be there. And, you know, I kind of say, OK. You have to face this. This is what's going on in the world.
LUDDEN: At the same time, she and others are grateful that people are talking.
CHRISTINA PELLAND: I don't care so much what Donald Trump said. I don't care about the politics as much as the fact that we're actually discussing it.
LUDDEN: Christina Pelland of Massachusetts says she was molested by her own father. And her daughter was sexually assaulted at age 11 during a sleepover. Pelland says dismissing Trump's language as locker-room talk is exactly what allows assault to keep happening and makes women blame themselves.
PELLAND: I think that it's a great thing if we can continue to discuss this in the open, rather than keeping it behind closed doors and continuing to perpetuate this victim stereotype.
LUDDEN: The biggest shame, she says, would be if this national discussion just fades away after the election. Brian Pinero with the advocacy group RAINN doesn't think it will. He sees a tipping point.
PINERO: This is the kind of thing where, like, you can't not realize this just doesn't happen to poor people. It doesn't happen to one type of people. This happens to anyone at any point.
LUDDEN: He says the hotline is keeping on extra staff, at least through the next presidential debate.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.