Mary Barzee Flores, a Democrat running for a congressional seat in Florida’s 25th district, released a campaign video last November called “Power Trip.” The spot opens with footage of women at work: a waitress ties an apron around her waist; a maid smooths a sheet over a hotel bed. In the background, Barzee Flores narrates her own experiences as a woman in the workplace, saying she “dealt with handsy customers, harassment, and even assault from a boss.” Then the ad cuts to a shot of Barzee Flores, with a smart blonde bob and red lipstick, as she reveals that on her first day as a lawyer, a judge “cracked a joke” about her appearance–letting viewers know the harassment didn’t stop even when Barzee Flores moved from working-class jobs to the white-collar world of law.
Barzee Flores is one of a handful of candidates running for office in the 2018 midterms who are divulging their own stories of sexual harassment and assault. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, these candidates are drawing on their experiences to connect with voters and to inform their policy priorities.
Ayanna Pressley, a progressive member of the Boston City Council who is running for a seat in Massachusetts’s 7th Congressional District, revealed in 2011—long before #MeToo vaulted the topic into the national political discourse—that she is a rape survivor. Now, as she challenges incumbent Michael Capuano in a September Democratic primary, she’s put her status as a survivor and advocate for others near the forefront of her campaign. “I have dedicated my life to combating trauma in all forms—domestic, sexual, gun violence—and so the opportunity to potentially be in Congress at a moment of elevated consciousness to codify activism in policy change is certainly an exciting prospect,” Pressley told The Nation.
In May, Democratic congressional candidate Katie Porter, who is running in California’s 45th district, divulged the physical and verbal abuse she endured from her now-ex-husband, whom she received a protective order against in 2013. She shared her story with The Huffington Post after she heard that a primary opponent was spreading rumors about her “shady background,” in Porter’s words, and claiming the details of her divorce might ruin her chances in the general election.
A lawyer and a mother of three, Porter called law enforcement multiple times because of her then-husband’s behavior. Once, she recalls, a responding officer told her she needed to learn how to control him and stop calling the police, or else her children might be taken by social services. The next time her husband turned violent, Porter decided not to call for help. “I saw that even as a lawyer, even as someone with a lot of resources, how a poor reaction from law enforcement can silence people from seeking help,” Porter said. She won the Democratic primary in June and will be running against Republican Mimi Waters in November.
Gubernatorial candidates Chris Giunchigliani of Nevada and Krish Vignarajah of Maryland also came forward on the campaign trail with stories of sexual harm–Giunchigliani said she was abused by a family member as a child, and Vignarajah came out as a survivor when she released a plan to combat sexual violence as a part of her campaign. (Neither woman secured their states’ primary nomination.)