My sexual harasser is running for office. Help?
July 7, 2017 7:13 AM   Subscribe

A person who sent me unwanted sexual facebook messages about a year ago is now running for a major political office. Help me handle this in an ethical and responsible way.

This person friended me on facebook after I posted some funny things in a group we were both part of. He sent me some suggestive messages, I was basically like, "Nope, have a boyfriend," he continued to escalate and ended with some wildly inappropriate ones with pictures, and I laid into him. This happened about a year ago, and since that time he has become a public figure in a local office. He is now running for a major political office in my state, and it's been really hard and weird.

Major concerns:
1) I know I'm not the only person he's done this to, and I have no idea how the vetting system didn't catch him.
2) Even though he's a jerk, we have similar political values. The political party we are a part of currently undergoing some major shifts, and I would feel bad about damaging it in a mjaor way, but I also think having a candidate who sexually harasses women would be bad for the party.
3) I honestly can't figure out how much of this is me being vindictive versus me not wanting (another) man who sexually harasses women in office.
4) How do I handle this? Do I tell someone? Do I let it go, and just not vote for him on election day? How do I deal with having to see him all over media?

Thank you very much for your help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Sexual harassers getting more powerful only increases the likelihood that they'll be in a position to harass others. Power corrupts and all that. Lots of young women volunteer for political parties and work in political offices, and are a huge target for these kinds of creeps who don't take no for an answer. His power only increases the vulnerability of those around him.

That's not to say that you should or should not do anything - it is very, very difficult to stand up and deal with how the public receives women who speak out. If you have hard proof (say, transcripts of messages) then you could leak them anonymously (scrubbing your name) to the press (particularly to a member of the local press you know deals well with sexual assault/harassment stories), however you will have to be prepared that you will eventually be found to be the source and might severely impact your life and those around you.

If you choose not to do anything and he wins, be kind to yourself. It's an unfair burden that women have to bear just to tell the truth and you should not feel bad about not wanting to add that to your plate. Remind yourself that what happens is his fault and his fault only and that 2017 is a shit time to be a woman telling the truth publicly.
posted by notorious medium at 7:34 AM on July 7, 2017 [35 favorites]

I would contact the State leaders of his political party. You mentioned you had "no idea how the vetting system didn't catch him". What vetting system? Do you have reason to believe that before someone gets on a major party ballot line in your state that the state party does some sort of deep and thorough background check on the guy that will review his FB PMs? Don't bet the weekend money on that. My point is that the vetting system is you, your fellow residents and the press coming forward.

Call or email the political party main office and tell them that you are a member of the party and have information about a candidate you wish to share. You have no desire to hurt the party, in fact, you wish to help. Since it is hard for you to get perspective on this, let them decide what level this rises to. If they agree to listen, great, tell them what you know. But, accept the fact that they may simply brush it off as a one time incident. If they won't even listen, your only real options are to either contact the press or to confront the candidate.

I think the other consideration is how willing are you to have your own name dragged into the public arena. There is a good chance that either the party or the candidate will try to attack your character. It is the classic first defense of a harrasser. Attack the accuser.

Finally, this is not your burden to bear meaning that you should decide what to do what first protects you or is in your best interest. You do not have the collective weight of the State residents on your shoulders.
posted by AugustWest at 7:38 AM on July 7, 2017 [23 favorites]

I absolutely think you need to speak out about this. His messages to you are, on their own, totally inappropriate, especially for someone seeking public office; but as we've seen in so many cases, often that kind of harassment turns out to be the tip of the iceberg.

I don't think you want to find yourself in the position where he's a powerful and well-known elected official in a party you support and he's the subject of multiple rape allegations, when you know you could have nipped his political career in the bud. If you care about your political values, speaking out against someone who cannot be trusted to promote them with integrity is essential. It isn't your job to protect him: if you say nothing, he will still be the kind of creep who harasses women. Your silence won't change him, and it won't protect anyone.

To address your concerns directly:
1) He is a serial offender; as one of his victims, YOU ARE THE FIRST PART OF THE VETTING SYSTEM. If victims don't say anything, no amount of vetting will root out the bad guys.
2) You are not damaging the party by speaking out; the damage is being done by him, and if you keep quiet, the damage will only be greater in the long run.
3) You officially have the assurance of this internet stranger that you are NOT being vindictive, and you have my full and total permission to do anything and everything you can to stop a man who sexually harasses women from getting into public office. This man could end up having responsibility for women's refuges, rape prevention strategies, little girls' education - and he has no respect for women? NOPE NOPE NOPE!
4) As for who you tell - I would try to find a serious, respected female journalist in your area, perhaps one who has covered this kind of story before. She will know how to handle it - indeed, this is exactly why we have journalists in democratic society, to hold the powerful to account for their actions. If it is possible and appropriate, try to involve more of his victims in the reporting. Sadly, we still live in a society where one woman on her own is less likely to be believed than a group.

You can do something about this, and even though it might be hard to speak out, it's going to be much easier for you than for many of the potential victims he will have if he is able to get more political power.

Good luck. I'm cheering you on all the way.
posted by matthew.alexander at 7:39 AM on July 7, 2017 [19 favorites]

Washington Post, NY Post, and/or Politico would be interested. You may lose anonymity, though, even if you and the reporters try to protect it. I think the fact you support his politics has little bearing on this--obviously his politics are whack if they include stomping on good social norms regarding not sending dick pics. Actually, if he's going to evtually go down in an Anthony Weiner-style flameout, it's probably better for the party and your politics if it happens now so a better candidate can come forward. You shouldn't feel obligated to go public with this. If you would like to, though, feel free to send me a MeMail, as I know the right journalists.
posted by whitewall at 7:47 AM on July 7, 2017 [10 favorites]

1 -- As others have said, there is no vetting system. I worked (briefly) for an excellent candidate who was found in the middle of the campaign to have been lying about a three-year segment of their life. Like, where they lived, who they were working for, everything. It was found by -- and I wish I were making this up, but I talked to the person who found it -- going to the fourth page of Google results for that candidate's name. That is the level of vetting that doesn't happen.

2 -- I understand the temptation to say "Well, other than this...". There are other potential candidates who have similar political values who don't do this. The earlier you come out and tackle this guy, the better a chance the next candidate will have to pick up the ball and run with it.

3 -- I've never met either of you that I know of, and I want you to do something about this. I want you to do it a lot. If you live anywhere near me, I will volunteer right now to do whatever I can to assist you, I want it so much.

4 -- matthew.alexander has the right idea. Find a female journalist with experience in reporting on sexual harassment and/or politics. But don't trust her not to burn you, at least at first. Anything you give her that she can keep (including emails and texts), print a screenshot, black out your name, and take a picture, then give her that picture. Let her see the originals, but only on your phone/computer.

This is important work. I hope you do it. But if you don't, I 100 percent understand why you wouldn't want to.
posted by Etrigan at 7:50 AM on July 7, 2017 [41 favorites]

Did you save the messages? If you did not, which I could totally understand, it could end up being your word against his. I do hope you saved them and that you will contact the state office of your party and give them copies of the messages. His behavior will continue and probably escalate.
We don't need any more assholes in office.
posted by mareli at 7:51 AM on July 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

You said he'd sent you a bunch of unwanted fb messages. Do you still have them? If so, I'd do that, possibly blur out at least your last name and photo, and send them along with an email to the main political office and perhaps a news outlet as suggested above. In your email, you want to say something like "Hi, I recently learned that [harasser] is running for office, and as a member of this party and someone who cares about our public image I felt you should know that he is a serial sexual harasser. Attached please find screenshots documenting his harassing behavior. I've redacted my last name for personal safety reasons. Thanks for your understanding, I'm sure we both want our party to do well and that a serial sexual harasser is not an appropriate representation of our views and values."

Send this from an account that doesn't have your last name attached. The last thing you need is more harassment, though if you lose anonymity you will likely get that. I'd recommend locking down all of your social media accounts before you send the email.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:52 AM on July 7, 2017 [12 favorites]

I honestly can't figure out how much of this is me being vindictive versus me not wanting (another) man who sexually harasses women in office.

It's not vindictive. If you expose his penchant for sexual harassment and it harms his political career, the damage isn't a thing you did to him -- it's a consequence of his actions, for which he is responsible.

Do some digging on the website of your state political party and seek out someone to contact who you think will listen and act. Does your state party have a Women's Caucus, and if so who is its chair? Is there a standing committee on ethics? What about the senior staff members (not the elected officials) for the state party leadership?
posted by desuetude at 8:15 AM on July 7, 2017 [11 favorites]

Go to the state party and the news, and do it now, when it's still early enough for them to get a new candidate. Whether you do it anonymously or not, this guy shouldn't be a candidate, and if he's aligned with you politically, it'd be super lousy if news of him harassing someone else broke right before Election Day and someone you disagree with ended up in office because you didn't go public.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:19 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't think there's anything vindictive or petty about wanting to expose a sleazeball who wants to accrue more power to himself.

But, weigh carefully the possible consequences for yourself. If this is a national office and he's a major candidate, your anonymity is not safe and they're likely to drag you through the mud to defend him. It's not going to be fun, and I think your own selfcare is at least on an equal level with any obligation to expose and prevent future harm.
posted by dis_integration at 8:20 AM on July 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
I do not have the PMs - they really bothered me, and he wasn't a public figure at the time he harassed me, so I deleted them. For this reason, I'm not inclined to contact the press since it will literally be a his word vs mine situation. My gut is to send the party an anonymous email that is basically like, "Hey, this happened. I don't have proof, but in case others with more proof come forward, this is a pattern." Thank you for your kind words and your help.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:31 AM on July 7, 2017 [24 favorites]

That sounds like a plan. I would, maybe, for maximum effectiveness, copy a whole lot of people on the email. That is, if you send it to one person, they might sit on it. If you copy fifteen people, they will plausibly at least talk about it with each other.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:36 AM on July 7, 2017 [11 favorites]

There's a credibility issue with anonymous messages coming through a proxy, but I'd absolutely CYA with a throwaway Gmail created via Tor or something. Maybe I'm overparanoid, but.

That said, what I'd consider is composing a letter to the press with as much detail as you can bear to put into it: specific dates, any key phrases or words you recall, the nature of the images; I would then send that letter to the party leadership, offering them the opportunity to take action before you tell the media. Give them a couple weeks. See if he drops out of the race mysteriously.

A journalist would absolutely take something like this, especially if you have a span of time and some key details, as an opportunity to start some soft investigation to see if they can find fire to the smoke, and the pattern. There's almost definitely going to be a pattern.

If you're not asking for money or recognition or anything, the party leadership will be obliged (hopefully) to take this pretty darn seriously. And if they don't, hey, you've already got a well-composed and very specific letter that can hopefully spur an investigation/takedown by the media.
posted by Shepherd at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2017 [10 favorites]

Also... I don't actually have concrete advice here, but someone else reading the thread might. You have to figure that if he was sending you harassy FB messages out of the blue, it's a thing he does repeatedly. There is probably something obvious that I'm not thinking of that the state party people could do to look for other incidents -- that is, just asking around might find something, but if someone else has an idea of what would plausibly be a good way for the state party to affirmatively look for more, you could explicitly suggest that in your email. If there's something sensible and easy, and you suggest it to a whole bunch of people, there's a good chance someone will do it.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:50 AM on July 7, 2017

If I were looking for someone else to whom he did this, I would start with the other members of the group the OP was in where she met this ass. I bet there are others in that group he PM'ed inappropriately.
posted by AugustWest at 8:53 AM on July 7, 2017 [15 favorites]

Talk (anonymously) to the campaign manager and/or the volunteer coordinator for his campaign, especially if one of them is a woman. As notorious medium pointed out, this is a thing that assholes do to their young volunteers all the fucking time. Warning them would be a good deed.
posted by Etrigan at 8:57 AM on July 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't blame you for not saving the messages. I'm glad you didn't; it would be super uncomfortable for you to be reminded of that every time you checked FB. In your original post, you mentioned that you know you're not the only victim. Do you know this firsthand (i.e., another victim talked to you)? If so, it might be a good idea to get together with others and discuss options.

I also agree that this person should not hold a position of power, especially if you're both Democrats, whose platform supports equality.

I think your first step would be to contact the campaign office. Talk to the campaign manager and give him your basic story. Say that you'd prefer not to get media involved, but you want the campaign to address the issue. You have to think about what your endgame is here. Do you want him to drop out of the race? Just apologize? Maybe he could emphasize anti-harassment policies in his agenda? Figure that out, request that the campaign suggest it to the candidate, and say that you might consider going to the media if it's not addressed.

If the campaign doesn't respond, or blows you off, then contact the state party. Again, mention that your preference is to keep the media out of it. Emphasize that you're a committed party member who wants to see the party succeed electorally, but again, you want your concerns taken seriously. Remind them that, by this point, the campaign has not taken them seriously, and that's making you more likely to go to the media.

Finally, if the party blows you off too, you'll go to the media. Hopefully, it doesn't get to this point. But if it does, like others have said, contact a local reporter who specializes in sexual harassment and women's rights issues. If you have other victims who can give their stories as well, all the better. Get yourself a throwaway Gmail account with no details linking it to you.

Please please please do not feel bad about speaking out against this guy. You may have similar political values, but so do hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people in your state. The state party should not have trouble replacing him on the ballot (and if they do, he probably wasn't going to win anyway). Besides, for all your shared political values, there's one that he does not share, which is treating you (and presumably others) with respect.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:06 AM on July 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't blame you for not saving the messages. I'm glad you didn't; it would be super uncomfortable for you to be reminded of that every time you checked FB.

For future reference, you can archive messages on Facebook so you don't see them all the time in your list of messages under Messenger. If something like this happens in the future, I would suggest keeping the messages.

Others have more comprehensive advice, but just to add a vote: Saved messages or not, I definitely think you should let the party leadership know about this in some way, probably anonymously. Someone like this shouldn't have an opportunity to be in office.
posted by limeonaire at 10:47 AM on July 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Although you justly found this behavior upsetting, to the jaded outside word, it's just a few inappropriate emails. In your place, I wouldn't put myself at risk since the chance of having a big effect is small. But then, I'm a coward.

What would be more important is if the guy has been a perpetual harasser and abuser. In that case, standing with other victims could be important as has been shown by the women at Fox.

I like the skulduggery of sending an anonymous email, but I'd send it to a couple reporters. No detail, just "this guy is an asshole with women."
posted by SemiSalt at 10:50 AM on July 7, 2017

What would be more important is if the guy has been a perpetual harasser and abuser.

The only way to show that is for individuals to come forward.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:00 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'd contact the party and local media, as long as you are okay with blowback, because you will get some. I would be very surprised if this weren't a pattern, and in any event this is significant information.

The real question is whether you are okay with standing up and reporting. If you aren't, that's fine. You don't owe the world disclosure just because this is useful for voters to know. If you are, go for it, and know that this place has your back.
posted by bearwife at 11:04 AM on July 7, 2017

If you want to come forward then you should, but speaking from experience, consider preparing yourself for any of the following: you won't be believed, you will be believed but nobody will care, you will be believed and people will care but they won't do anything about it, you will be believed and people will care and they will do something about it but he'll win anyway.
posted by kapers at 11:06 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

> I would, maybe, for maximum effectiveness, copy a whole lot of people on the email. That is, if you send it to one person, they might sit on it. If you copy fifteen people, they will plausibly at least talk about it with each other.

Respectfully, I would not advise copying 15 people. More than one, yes, for the reason LizardBreath mentioned. Reference them specifically to demonstrate that you did your homework. But cc'ing too long of a list of people can undermine your credibility and make it seem more gossipy. (I'm sorry, I'm not condoning this view, just commenting on the dynamics of how people receive information.)
posted by desuetude at 11:44 AM on July 7, 2017

I know I'm not the only person he's done this to, and I have no idea how the vetting system didn't catch him.

I would love to see this guy exposed. I don't think you are being vindictive, I think you are being a good citizen. Most likely this guy will simply go on to victimise greater numbers of women. We've seen this movie before, and it sucks.

OP, how do you know that you are not the only one? Have you spoken to others who were in that group, or is it a gut feeling? I believe you; I'm sure there are others. I am simply asking if you have the names of other victims.

Without more than one victim, it's one of those "she said, he said" stories that the campaign and the state party organisation may (will likely?) ignore. Without external evidence like the FB messages or corroborating stories from other victims, it's unlikely this would be covered by general media--but it might be picked up by the opposition party. Which it sounds like you don't want.

If I were in your shoes, I might follow advice above and approach a seemingly trustworthy local/state female journalist with whom to share my story, anonymously, and ask if they are willing to investigate to see if others have been harassed as well.

As noted by kapers, you may not be believed. As noted by others, you may have your identity revealed. (To be fair, professional journalists will do everything they can to protect your identity but that's not always possible.)

I'm a former journalist; I'd be happy to help you brainstorm some approaches if you PM me. What a crappy situation to be in; it was bad enough to be harassed but now this guy is moving up in the world. Yikes!

Naturally you don't want to derail your own party. But remember how Anthony Weiner really fucked up the Democratic party, not just his own career, and even managed to screw with Hillary's race in the end? So exposing this asshole now, before he runs for national office, might actually be a service not only to the women he has harassed in the past but also to the future of whatever party he's a part of.

Good luck, OP. I don't envy your situation. If you decide to do nothing more, I understand completely.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:27 PM on July 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

Mod note: This is another followup from the asker.
Honestly, there are two ways that I know he's harassed other people - one is that he told me himself - "I go too far with women, I'm shitty, I'm sorry, please don't be mad at me, I've lost other women friends for stuff like this" when I called him out. The other is that when I posted on a support group I'm a part of about this is fairly vague terms (though they did know where I was located), a few women messaged me and were said "Oh, yeah, _____ ____ is the broken stair. He did this to my blah blah blah blah." So, no people who have experienced directly, but it's a known thing within my really specific subset of people? I hope that makes sense. He and I are both active in some geeky things in our community/online, and that is a small, small world.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:49 PM on July 7, 2017

Oh, hey, you know other specific women he did this to? That's huge, in terms of credibility. Can you get back in touch with them and see if any of them are comfortable coming forward as well?
posted by LizardBreath at 1:15 PM on July 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh, no, I misread. You know other women from an online community who have said that they know women he did this to as well. Secondhand accounts, not firsthand.

Huh. I am focusing on how to get the story out credibly, and being cavalier about blowback. But (ignoring the possibility of blowback which you should think about as well) it'd add something significant to your disclosure to the party/media if as well as telling your own story, you identified the online community as a place where he is known to have harassed multiple women other than you.
posted by LizardBreath at 1:23 PM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have some experience with political parties, but not this experience.

You have zero proof. I think you must not say anything to anyone in the party. I'm assuming his backers are more powerful than you, and you don't want to be a target. HOWEVER, HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS...

I would identify a journalist that has the backing and independence who is covering this beat. As long as they are not too buddy buddy with anyone who might seek to damage you, there is little use in not alerting them this is a potential story. You deleted your documentation, but others may not have. You may be in a unique position to get someone else to keep their ears and eyes open, and/or just start digging in this direction.

I would not put myself out there without the proof you no longer have. But you don't have to remain entirely silent, either. If you run in the right circles in your state, you may be able to figure out who to tell? It would be tricky. But it would be worth it if you could do it cleanly.
posted by jbenben at 2:42 PM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Someone else identified him as a 'missing stair' -- has he been asked to leave any groups in your shared community? Post again to that support group, mentioning his campaign.

Perhaps that's the story to be told. Not your word against his, but how he's not a viable candidate because he's a known harasser banned in several places.'s been really hard and weird... How do I deal with having to see him all over media?
Regardless of what you decide to do about him, please see a therapist to help sort through all this.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:36 PM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming you did this - but just to be sure - check your archived messages. (Or have other people do it if they to "deleted" them if you are in contact with others he has messaged.)

On DESKTOP, go to messages, hit the gear above the contact list, hit Archived Messages.

From there you CAN individually delete conversations - but to my memory on first "delete" they become archived first.
posted by Crystalinne at 9:51 AM on July 8, 2017

I don't think you're being vindictive. Sexual harassment is not okay, and people who sexual harass others should be kept from positions of power. If he's currently running in a primary, I would prioritize acting sooner rather than later in the hopes that someone else can be your party's candidate in the general election.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:47 AM on July 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Send the FB conversation and photos to your local newspaper. It isn't libel if this actually happened.
posted by GiveUpNed at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2017

Chances are he has got more skeletons and will hurt the party. End this career now.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:31 PM on July 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Call or email your local rape crisis center. This kind of thing is absolutely in their wheelhouse. They will believe and be responsive to you, will have connections to resources to help you deal with whatever decision you make, and know the local landscape well enough to help you see realistic options.

They will also focus on care for you, which is deeply important.

I strongly urge that this be your first step, before you reach out to party or media.

And bravo to you, by the way, for not only holding your boundaries well with him, but reaching out for help on this.

I have a blistering migraine at the moment, so my clarity may suck, but i wish you strength and peace through this.
posted by Vigilant at 3:03 PM on July 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
I ended up anonymously reporting him. Other women did too, and shortly after that, he suspended his campaign. He is now dealing with legal consequences related to his pattern of behavior, which continued to escalate.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:31 PM on November 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

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