Broken Promises: Why We Need A Review Of The #MeToo Report The California Democratic Party Is Trying To Bury.
I really didn’t intend to write more on this topic, but I can’t sit by silently while the California Democratic Party makes a potentially disastrous decision regarding the survivors of sexual misconduct who came forward when Eric Bauman was ousted.
I served as Digital Director for the CDP from September 2018 to September 2019, when I resigned after my long public & legal fight with the Party was settled. It was my complaint that my former boss reported on the first day of the bus tour, setting into motion a flood of victims coming forward with their own disgusting, disturbing allegations about then-Chair Bauman. The investigation report from the Party’s internal inquiry has been finished — and Chair Rusty Hicks doesn’t want to release it.
This is appalling and unacceptable. This report, its origin, and its findings can’t just be silenced and relegated to a back room. Survivors need to be centered — Chair Hicks claims in his statement that releasing the report will do “further damage to the victims who were harmed and came forward.” Yet, to the best of my knowledge and based on conversations I’ve had with other survivors, the survivors who participated in the internal investigation haven’t even seen the report themselves. Furthermore, other survivors, including my former co-plaintiffs activist Alton Wang and California Young Democrats President Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, have both expressed concerns that they weren’t ever formally invited to participate at all — meaning that the report should be examined and criticized for its lack of scope.
Any survivor or witness who doesn’t want sections of the report pertaining to them released should be able to exercise that right. Victims should be able to collaboratively decide what details are summarized and released. A blanket paternalistic assertion from the Chair that it would be bad for survivors to release any reference to the report’s contents at all — that smells far too close to a coverup, and demands immediate accountability.
I actually didn’t participate in the investigation myself. After the complaints started, the Party hired a small law firm — Delfino Madden — that had represented my alma mater against me in a particularly ugly Title Nine case about a brutal rape and subsequent coverup when I was sixteen. I was immediately concerned not only for my safety, but for the integrity of the Party — after all, the CDP makes a point to only spend its money on vendors and services that align with progressive values. I dropped out of an initial suit against the Party in order to speak publicly about this. Early on in the investigation process, when it became known that Delfino Madden themselves had chosen the investigator, I not only avoided it as a matter of my personal health and safety, but out of extreme skepticism that the investigation could at all be fair. Other survivors declined to participate for the same reason.
I don’t blame those who did choose to participate, in fact, some of my closest former colleagues did — including my former boss John Vigna and the former Operations Director Tina McKinnor, both of whom took my side immediately, reported my complaint, ensured my safety, and were promptly fired for their troubles. I hope for their sake the investigation was as unbiased as possible — and while the origins of that investigation itself might be suspicious, it’s even more suspicious and corrupt to hide its contents completely.
It leaves me with a question that has kept me up at night a lot this past month. How is being the party of believing survivors and then betraying them for political convenience any better than being the party that doesn’t believe them in the first place at all?
In some ways, it’s even more insidious. At least on the conservative side, you know what to expect when you’re coming forward. But on the Democratic side, it’s unpredictable. You can spend your entire career helping build up the public perception that the people around you care about assault survivors, but be shut out as soon as you yourself come forward because you were unlucky enough to make a politically inconvenient accusation. It’s like playing Russian Roulette.
What happened here in California seems to indicate that the establishment ultimately views survivors as disposable resources — powerful banks of political capital when it works for those in charge, dangerous liabilities when it doesn’t. Their treatment of you will depend entirely on whether or not they view you as an obstacle to an agenda that, most of the time, you can’t even fully predict. This is a chilling message for the CDP to be sending, one that will deter survivors and activists for years to come.
A former colleague of the CDP’s law firm even reached out to me anonymously to confirm my fears. She said that the HR Director of the Party — Amy Vrattos, who still works there — knew that using the firm was “a good tool” and wanted to “bury your complaint, and quite honestly, bury you at the same time.” A good tool to silence me, a good tool to ensure that my report — the one that started the investigation — went away. The HR Director of the Party engaging in discourse about how to “bury” a survivor should be a disqualifying factor in their future employment there. That email was made public, the Party continued to allow that firm to represent them. That HR Director was also the one who oversaw the termination of Tina McKinnor and John Vigna — and oversaw the investigation.
Rusty Hicks signed my Survivor’s Pledge when he was a candidate to replace Bauman. The pledge was simple and had three planks. To fire Delfino Madden, to publicly name the people who had decided to keep them on even when a survivor’s history with them was made known, and to hire restorative-justice, survivor-trained firms for sexual misconduct suits going forward. It is not good enough to just punish the person who committed the misconduct. You must also hold the people who helped them and who hurt survivors coming forward. Not holding those people accountable at all is reckless, incomplete, guarantees another incident, and has an enormous chilling effect on survivors of misconduct being comfortable enough to report assault, harassment, or retaliation. Rusty Hicks supporting the Pledge lulled me into a false sense of security — and hope.
Once elected, Chair Hicks seemed less than enthusiastic about following through. He had privately told a friend of mine that he intended to reaffirm his commitment to the Pledge on stage at convention after winning, and it was immediately troublesome to me that that did not happen. I still worked for the Party at this point, so I met with him right away and reminded him of the commitment he made by signing the Pledge. I explained that it was a huge outstanding stressor on not only me, but all survivors considering or actively engaging in legal reports against the Party. He dodged, not giving me a solid answer. It wasn’t until after numerous delegates spoke out and sent him an official notice that he finally relented and fulfilled exactly one third of the Pledge he publicly signed — firing Delfino Madden. It was like pulling teeth, and I walked away with the distinct impression he wouldn’t even have done that had I not raised the issue with delegates.
One third. 33%. That’s a failing grade. It represents multiple broken promises.
Chair Hicks failed to follow through on crucially important promises to protect survivors and repair the Party’s damage and credibility. Most importantly, those components were designed to prevent a Bauman-scale incident from happening ever again. Without accountability and transparency, there are no meaningful options for survivors to come forward. All survivors can wonder is if they come forward, will the Party choose to exploit a traumatic connection from their past too. How can people possibly trust the Chair saying he’s changed and has the wellbeing of survivors at heart when he has broken his word on this exact topic before? How are we supposed to think that the CDP’s new and improved “code of conduct” is adequate and believe the Party when they assure us that we don’t need to see the report?
I would be lying if I said that my experience with the CDP didn’t sour my view of California politics. I live in downtown Sacramento and have rarely left my apartment to venture out in the city since settling and resigning from the CDP last fall. I’ve spent a lot of time out of town, in LA, in the Bay Area. Here, I feel choked. It’s impossible to go to bars or even go to Target without running into people who bring those feelings back to me. I’ve actively avoided a lot of my friends who work in California politics, even the ones who were nothing but supportive of me and the other survivors. Every time I meet up for coffee or a drink with someone who still works in CDP-adjacent circles, the disillusionment overwhelms me. To avoid that, I’ve distanced myself from so many people. I actively try to not drive by Party headquarters — less than a mile from my apartment — and when I do, my fists tighten around my steering wheel. I’ve shifted my workload entirely away from politics, choosing to focus on nonprofits and advocacy work instead. Most of my clients are in different time zones. It’s not because I want to distance myself from politics. I simply can’t accept giving my labor to a cause that, given the opportunity, would gladly terrorize me and people like me. My trust is completely broken.
If any survivor walks away from an interaction with your organization feeling like that, I doubt that there has been any reparative work done at all — and if there was, it certainly wasn’t sufficient. The best that Rusty did on this front was the Pledge, which is now nothing more than a set of broken promises and a trite nod to restorative justice.
I can only imagine what it must have been like for survivors who came forward on a national scale — like Tara Reade or Christine Blasey-Ford or Anita Hill — to have this kind of grief and disillusionment play out everywhere. At least I can be confident that when I escape to LA in non-pandemic circumstances, I likely won’t accidentally run into another person with an opinion about how great my abuser and the establishment protecting him and harassing me are. For the most part, since I’ve disappeared in most public spaces online, I can comfortably hide in my apartment and not have this thrown in my face all the time digitally. They don’t get that privilege.
Do I feel like the CDP has changed? Or do I feel like there’s reason to believe that what happened with Bauman will happen again? I think that Chair Hicks has left all the infrastructure in place for a repeat scenario to happen. I don’t think we should let somebody who has already broken promises to survivors assure us that it’s in our best interest to just move on and forget about it.
Given the damage that has been done and the skepticism that many have about the Party’s supposed progress here, I’m calling for the CDP to immediately convene a panel of party leaders and activists to review the report and to release, at the very least, an executive summary focused on organizational failures and necessary reforms. This panel would be independent from the Chair and the rest of the staff. This commission would be able to review the report and communicate its most important findings, but also identify its shortcomings — the flawed beginning of the investigation and the fact that many witnesses and survivors were too intimidated to participate or not even invited to participate at all. This comprehensive examination of the Party’s report and its overall response to the misconduct is necessary in order to prevent such violence from occurring again.
Cultivating the trust of survivors and keeping his word to them doesn’t seem to be a priority for the current Chair of the California Democratic Party. I hope to be proven wrong.