After #MeToo, female progressives candidly discuss experiences with sexual assault

PHOTO: Rachel Crooks speaks during the press conference held by women accusing Trump of sexual harassment, Dec. 11, 2017, in New York City. PlayMonica Schipper/Getty Images
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In the wake of the #MeToo movement, progressive female candidates are sharing candid descriptions of personal experiences with what they say is sexual assault and harassment, often as they run on political platforms focused on women’s economic empowerment issues like affordable child care, paid family leave and a living wage.

At a Tuesday panel with People For the American Way’s Next Up Victory Fund, four Democratic candidates in battleground states – Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio – said the #MeToo movement has served as a catalyst for young women to run for office.

Rachel Crooks, a candidate for the Ohio’s 88th State House district, made national headlines as one of a group of women who came forward during the 2016 presidential race to accuse Donald Trump of sexual misconduct.

Crooks says that Trump forcibly kissed her while she was working as an intern in Trump Tower in 2006, shortly after the recording of the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape.

“Watching powerful men like Trump not being held accountable, it made me realize women need to run and win to change this culture,” Crooks said.

To date, at least 16 women have come forward to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct.

Trump has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.

If elected, Crooks would be the first woman to ever represent her Ohio district.

Other candidates stressed that #MeToo was a pivotal moment, but that challenges to powerful abusers must extend beyond high-profile public figures to transform workplace culture.

Anna Eskamani, a former Planned Parenthood organizer and the daughter of Iranian immigrants who is running for Florida’s 47th State House district, spoke about her own experiences with sexual harassment and dating violence.

Eskamani insisted that harassment must be understood as a class issue, affecting “not just women of celebrity status, but also house workers, farmers, and wait staff who live life every day in environments of abuse and control.”

Myya Jones, who at just 23 is competing in the primary for a Michigan State House seat, says she became a victim of sexual assault as a young child.

Jones, who is African-American, emphasized that women of color have led the movement to challenge sexual predators -- Tarana Burke, an African-American organizer, coined the phrase ‘Me Too’ -- and stressed the under-representation of black women in politics.

Katie Muth, a candidate for state Senate in Pennsylvania’s 44th district, described being raped when she was 22 and said she has faced enormous gender barriers in her career as a healthcare provider in the male-dominated field of athletic training.

Though she was discouraged from discussing the rape when she decided to run for office, Muth said she is determined to share her story as she advocates for women's economic and social empowerment.

In a number of recent campaign ads, progressive female candidates have shared frank accounts of their experiences with sexual assault.

Sol Flores, a Democrat running in Illinois’ 4th congressional district, discusses the abuse she suffered as a young woman in her campaign ad, “That Door.”

MJ Hegar, a progressive candidate in Texas’s deep-red 31st congressional district, published a bio spot entitled "Doors," with striking parallels to Flores' ad. Hegar chronicles the numerous barriers she has faced as a woman, including sexual assault and hurdles during her military service.

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