Congress is sexist. So says Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, a former journalist and health-care executive who in 2012 became the first woman from her district to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. As she faces reelection in November, one of her top missions is to flood Congress with women and people of color so the lawmakers drafting bills “truly reflect the makeup of America.”
Bustos spoke to Cosmopolitan.com at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Women’s Issues Conference in New York City on Monday, where party leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi celebrated one dozen women currently running for Congress. Among them are former Orlando police chief Val Demings, former Maine state senator Emily Cain, and Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon — who, if elected, would become the first woman Iowa has ever placed in the US House of Representatives.
“Let’s look at the fact that equal pay for equal work has not made progress. What other explanation can there be other than that there’s some sexism at play?” said Bustos, who serves as the vice chair of the DCCC’s recruitment committee and co-chair of the Red to Blue committee, an effort to put Democrats in seats currently occupied by Republicans. “Why are we not making progress on campus sexual assault? Why are we not making more progress on sexual assault in the military? These are issues that are mostly female victims that we’re talking about. Women can relate to this issue in a way that is very, very personal,” she said.
“I mean, can you imagine if we had a woman president, a woman Speaker of the House and if we picked up more seats in Congress with women members? Can you even imagine that those issues wouldn’t make some headway?” Bustos asked.
Though women are 51 percent of the population, they make up just 19 percent of Congress, 24 percent of state legislators, and 12 percent of governors, according to the Representation 2020 Project. At the current rate of change, according to research by the Institute for Women’ Policy, political parity for women is still over a century away.
Bustos, who has campaigned for all these female candidates, says that recruiting women is a “very different process” than for recruiting men. “Women typically, the first questions they ask is how is this going to impact my family? How do you take it, running for political office, when it is so nasty?” she explains. Women are also concerned “about whether they will be able to grasp the complexity of the issues that face our nation,” she says. “Men are typically like, ‘Can I win?’ I kid you not.”
Bustos’s observations are backed up by empirical research. According to a 2012 study by the Women & Politics Institute at American University’s School of Public Affairs, compared to men, women are less encouraged to run for political office, are less likely to consider themselves qualified for office, are more likely to perceive a negative bias from the media, and are still responsible for a majority of household- and family-related work.
In an on-stage interview with Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles during a luncheon at the event, Pelosi encouraged more women to participate in politics — and to stop being humble. “I want our candidates to be immodest,” she said. “Have confidence, be strong, be proud. And take credit for who you are and what you do.”
Rape survivors at Brigham Young University, considered the ‘Mormon Harvard’, face penalties under its strict honor code. Now they’re fighting back
Madi Barney was told she could not register for future classes at Brigham Young University after she reported her rape. Photograph: George Frey/GEORGE FREY
Madi Barney sat sobbing in the Provo, Utah, police department. It had been four days since the Brigham Young University sophomore had been raped in her off-campus apartment.
She was scared – terrified – that the officials at her strict, Mormon university would find out and punish her.
Nonsense, the officers told her, they’ll never know, and they won’t hurt you. But a month or so later, there she was with her attorney in Brigham Young University’s Title IX office – a place where rape victims are supposed to get help – and offered an ultimatum by a university official.
Barney was told the school “had received a police report in which ‘A) it looks like you’ve been raped and B) it also looks like you may have violated the honor code’”, she recounted, and that “I was going to be forwarded to the honor code office unless I let them investigate me. I said absolutely not.”
The university has told Barney that she cannot register for future classes. She is no longer welcome at the institution her father attended before her, along with aunts and uncles and two cousins, a university that devout families consider the Harvard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Attending the graceful campus at the foot of the snow-capped Wasatch Range is an aspiration for many young Mormons, and being thrown out is a black mark that can follow the devout for life, estrange them from their families, derail their education and ultimately their careers.
It can bring with it “horrible guilt and shame and dishonor”, said sociologist Ryan Cragun, who specializes in Mormonism at the University of Tampa. “If it’s tied to the honor code, not only is it tied to academic failure, but you’re a sinner. This could cause ramifications for your eternal salvation.”
So what did the 20 year old do? She fought back. And in the process, she helped galvanize many other rape survivors to come forward with their own stories of “re-victimization” at the hands of BYU officials in what has evolved into a grassroots effort to change one of the university’s most stringent sets of policies – the honor code.
The public outrage that followed has shone a spotlight on the school at a time when victim-blaming has appeared in headlines elsewhere in the country. This week, a court in Oklahoma declared that state law did not criminalize oral sex with a victim who was incapacitated by alcohol. And on 15 April, at a campaign event in New York, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich advised a college student concerned about rape: “don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol”.
Going public exposed Barney to yet another wave of abuse, this time via newspaper comment sections, social media posts and threatening emails – a sign of the tough job ahead for BYU students and alumnae as they push against a culture that both nurtures and punishes.
“Are we to understand that this young lady wants her transgressions overlooked while holding others accountable for theirs?” wrote one online skeptic. “In the end, be moral and don’t break the rules and you’ll be better off”, scolded another. Asked a third, “Why do people think that a sexual assault means ‘everything I did is irrelevant and I am in no way responsible?’
Barney told her story publicly for the first time on 7 April at a rape awareness conference at BYU. The details are chilling.
The suspect, 39-year-old Nasiru Seidu, lied to her about about his age and name. He told her he was single. According to police documents, he raped her while she cried out and screamed, “no”. The police confirmed the details during a staged phone call between Barney and Seidu after she filed the report.
Seidu, who was arrested after the September rape, is free on bail. His wife attends court hearings by his side. Barney has protective orders requiring that he stay away.
A Utah County sheriff’s deputy, a friend of Seidu, passed a copy of the police report to the BYU honor code office. The document, Barney said, has pages of details about the rape, a statement from the nurse who examined her, “medical records of trauma to my body after a rape”.
School officials, she said, used that report to launch their investigation into whether she had violated the honor code, which prohibits students from inviting members of the opposite sex into their rooms. They must be “chaste,” dress modestly, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and attend church services.
At the advice of her attorney, she refused to take part in the investigation. She has been banned from ever registering for classes at BYU again. After Seidu’s trial, she plans to transfer to another university.
BYU officials, she said, told her “they couldn’t give me the services that they would give a rape victim because they couldn’t prove that I was raped. I filed a Title IX complaint against them, like, a week ago.”
What she wants people to understand, she said, is that “I’m not attacking BYU … I’m not saying throw out the whole honor code. You just need to add one small clause, which is common sense.”
That clause, she said, would grant sexual assault victims immunity from honor code investigations so that, if they wanted to, they could report the crimes against them without fearing retribution.
“If I hadn’t reported my rape,” she said, “none of this would be happening to me. The very thing I was supposed to do, the right thing, led me to getting kicked out of school. The way that BYU has treated me has been so callous that it’s been almost as bad as the rape itself.”
After Barney spoke at the rape awareness conference, many other women approached her to say they’d gone through the same thing.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins would not respond to questions about the specifics of Barney’s case. But she did say that the university would “never illegally obtain a police report” and has launched a study about the school’s policies.
The universtity, she said in an email, “cares deeply about the safety and well-being of our students. When a student reports a sexual assault our primary focus is on the safety and well-being of the victim. A Title IX investigation is never conducted to harass or re-traumatize a victim.”
That said, “sometimes in the course of an investigation”’ she continued, “facts come to light that a victim has engaged in prior honor code violations.”
Those facts are investigated, which causes what the school describes as an “inherent tension”.
Jenny McComb, an LDS churchgoer who handles sexual assault cases for a British university, said the honor code is designed “to promote a nice environment for LDS students”.
“A lot of students feel very positively toward it,” she continued. “But if the honor code is acting as a shield to protect and conceal sexual violence, that’s not working. There is nothing honorable about protecting sex offenders.”
When Hailey Allen walked into an athletic store two years ago, she saw a pair of workout shorts identical to the ones worn by the man who drugged and raped her when she was a freshman at BYU in 2004. Suddenly, she felt as if the assailant was right there in the room.
“My whole body froze and I could feel myself shaking. I couldn’t talk or move and felt completely helpless.”
It was one of many flashbacks that the now 30 year old said she experienced a decade after the sexual assaults that upended her life. Along with the flashbacks came the terrible dreams in which her rapist hurt other women. When Allen decided to track the assailant down, she discovered that he was a high school athletic coach.
“He’s in this position of trust,” she said,” “and it just makes me ill thinking about what could be happening.”
In 2004, when Allen told BYU officials about the assaults, they said her allegations would be difficult to pursue. And besides, they told her, if she did, she would be expelled for honor code violations. It didn’t matter if she’d been drugged. Eventually, her bishop intervened, and she was allowed to remain in school – but on academic probation.
Since then, she’s become an advocate for women and started Helping Save (Helping Sexual Assault Victims Everywhere), a not-for-profit that steers victims to counseling and legal services.
Allen also lobbied her alma matter to adjust the way it deals with victims of sex crimes, overtures that have mostly been ignored. Her request to set up a Helping Save booth at BYU’s rape awareness conference in February was rejected, too, but she attended the event anyway.
That’s where she met the slight, dark-haired Barney, along with dozens of other survivors. Since then, their fight has escalated into an international cause. Anonline petition urging BYU to grant rape survivors immunity from honor code violations related to the attacks has gathered more than 110,000 signatures.
This year, inspired to join the debate and lobby for change, Colleen Payne Dietz also came forward with her own story. The now 34 year old remembers her attacker as a well-dressed man in his mid 20s who drove a fancy car, and was the uncle of one of her friends in the BYU dorms.
He shared her love of music, he told her, and invited her to burn CDs at his home in the foothills under Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple.
What was supposed to have been a couple of hours listening to music turned into two days of imprisonment. She had no phone, no clothes, no way to leave.
“Up to this point in my life, I’ve never been vocal about it,” Payne Dietz said of the 2001 incident. “I haven’t really been in a place in my life where I’ve been able to be as active as Hailey. But now I am.”
She recalled confiding the details of her rape to a bishop, who said she would be expelled. Her father intervened, and the religious leader backed down. But she was forbidden from receiving the sacrament at church.
“The most devastating part,” Payne Dietz said, was when the bishop told her: “‘If you’re pregnant because of this experience then you will need to leave BYU’.”
“My parents met at BYU and were married at BYU,” Payne Dietz said. “I was born at BYU. There was never another option for me … Sitting in their office my whole world – everything that I knew for my future – was being taken from me over something I had no control over.”
Donald Trump now looks set to be the Republican presidential nominee. So for those of us appalled by this prospect — what are we supposed to do?
Well, not what the leaders of the Republican Party are doing. They’re going down meekly and hoping for a quiet convention. They seem blithely unaware that this is a Joe McCarthy moment. People will be judged by where they stood at this time. Those who walked with Trump will be tainted forever after for the degradation of standards and the general election slaughter.
The better course for all of us — Republican, Democrat and independent — is to step back and take the long view, and to begin building for that. This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.
Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it. The job for the rest of us is to figure out the right response.
That means first it’s necessary to go out into the pain. I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.
We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.
I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.
We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.
We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. The author R.R. Reno has argued that what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people, as the writers David and Amber Lapp note, feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST. That leads to an everyone-out-for-himself mentality and Trump’s politics of suspicion. We’ll need a communitarianism.
Maybe the task is to build a ladder of hope. People across America have been falling through the cracks. Their children are adrift. Trump, to his credit, made them visible. We can start at the personal level just by hearing them talk.
Then at the community level we can listen to those already helping. James Fallows had a story in The Atlantic recently noting that while we’re dysfunctional at the national level you see local renaissances dotted across the country. Fallows went around asking, “Who makes this town go?” and found local patriots creating radical schools, arts festivals, public-private partnerships that give, say, high school dropouts computer skills.
Then solidarity can be rekindled nationally. Over the course of American history, national projects like the railroad legislation, the W.P.A. and the NASA project have bound this diverse nation. Of course, such projects can happen again — maybe through a national service program, or something else.
Trump will have his gruesome moment. The time is best spent elsewhere, meeting the neighbors who have become strangers, and listening to what they have to say.
“I don’t come here playing games with you all,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman who died in a Texas jail cell last summer. “I don’t come to sit and be a part of a caucus where we talk and do nothing,” she continued.
Reed-Veal was speaking at the Library of Congress, part of the first symposium of the newly formed Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. “Am I angry? Absolutely,” said the mother, who said she does not believe her daughter committed suicide. Her testimony instigated tears and loud sighs in an audience filled with black women. The officer who arrested Bland, Brian Encinia, was fired.
“I leave you with this: it is time to wake up, get up, step up, or shut up.”
Below is the full transcript of Veal’s short but emotionally powerful speech.
I want to say to all of you who sit here today, thank you. Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to be here today. Sometimes it’s rough. I don’t have a big long statement to read. What I’m going to say to you is that I’m here representing the mothers who are not heard, I am here representing the mothers who have lost children as we go on about our daily lives. When the cameras and lights are gone, our babies are dead. So I’m going to ask you here today to wake up. Wake up. By a show of hands, can any of you tell me the other six women who died in jail in July 2015 along with Sandra Bland? That is a problem. You all are among the walking dead, and I am so glad that I have come out from among you. I heard about Trayvon, I heard about all the shootings, and it did not bother me until it hit my daughter. I was walking dead just like you until Sandra Bland died in a jail cell in Texas.
Let’s get something straight. I as a mother do not believe she committed suicide. I will say that until it’s proven. But if you want me to believe that my daughter—that I sent down there sitting up, driving her own vehicle—would be sent home in a capsule in the bottom of a plane with luggage on top of her, that I’m going to shut up? I will not. I will not. I will continue to speak for every mother paralyzed because of the loss of their child. Six, and Google them. I’m looking at your phones. Take two minutes and Google the other six that died in jail. We’re not talking about that year, we’re talking about the month of July. 18-50 [years old]. Kindra Chapman allegedly stole a cell phone; 20 hours later she hung herself. Alexis McGovern downstairs in the infirmary dead, her family upstairs paying the bond. Nobody has spoken these names. And as I go around the country speaking, the fact that no pen is raised in a room, where six other women, aside from my daughter, have died. And nobody knows their names. That’s a problem.
The tears are real, the pain is real, the problem is real. So, I don’t come here playing games with you all. I don’t come to sit and be a part of a caucus where we talk and do nothing. You, you, you, you don’t know my pain. God forbid you go up to another grieving mother and say you know how she feels, that is a lie. Unless you have lost a child. Am I angry? Absolutely. I’m not angry enough to create a riot where I burn things down, but I will create a riot, I will set off so that people will understand that this is real. Movements move. Activists activate. We have got to stop talking and move. So I leave you with this: it is time to wake up, get up, step up, or shut up.