Katie Hill: More women needed in leadership, Congress

Katie Hill, Executive Director and Deputy CEO of PATH, a statewide nonprofit organization working to end homelessness presents the benefits of Measure H during a debate in Feb. 2017. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Bryan Caforio, a Democratic candidate for California Congressional District 25, wrote in a recent op-ed, “We need to ensure that we have more women in leadership positions.”

As a woman running for the same seat Caforio is, I couldn’t agree more.

Representative government is supposed to be just that: a reflection of the people who elect it. So why is it that just 19.4 percent of our representatives in Congress are women? And why is it that, in our district’s 64-year history, not a single woman has held this seat?

Now more than ever, we need women in politics to amplify the voices of the millions of survivors of harassment and assault, to advance the cause of women’s rights, and to assure the 157 million women in this country that their voices are heard, their views are represented, and their experiences are reflected in our legislative bodies.

Over the past several months and still each day, we have learned about dozens of men in power who abuse their positions by sexually harassing or assaulting colleagues, co-workers, and employees. Sometimes men are the victims in these cases. Mostly they are women, though, and yet women are usually left out of the discussion of how to solve the problem.

But not anymore.

I have lived my entire life understanding the feelings of vulnerability being a woman can sometimes bring. When I was 16, I took a class outside of school. We had a TA in his 20s who was good-looking, and yes, I had a crush on him. He asked for my number. I gave it to him. We talked a couple of times on the phone, but when we got together in person he grabbed me, started touching me, tried to kiss me, and I got scared.

I told him I didn’t want to do anything with him and that we shouldn’t talk anymore, but he didn’t stop. He kept telling me how much he wanted to see me and what he wanted to do to me. I stopped texting him or answering his calls.

In the next class he kept bothering me so I left early. He followed me outside. Fearful, I fled in my car and, being distracted, I was in an accident resulting in a concussion and a totaled vehicle.

It didn’t stop. He showed up at my house in the middle of the night. Finally, I told my mom about this TA. She said to report him but I didn’t want him to lose his job or go to jail. I felt like it was kind of my fault.

It never would have occurred to me to say he’d sexually assaulted me.

His harassment continued. I dropped the class.

At last I told my dad, who at the time was a police SWAT sergeant. The next time the TA called I gave Dad the phone. I didn’t hear from that TA again.

But I remained ashamed, and scared, and I told no one about the extent of the harassment because I thought it was my fault for getting myself into that situation.

Like so many other women and girls, I stayed silent.

As an adult I have been at the forefront of tackling sexual assault for almost a decade by working to support our homeless neighbors who are disproportionately vulnerable to predators and assault.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence reports more than 90 percent of women who are homeless have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives. A study sponsored by the National Institute of Drug Abuse showed that 41 percent of women staying in homeless shelters had been sexually abused by an adult before age 18.

While serving as deputy CEO and executive director of PATH, the largest homeless services provider in California, I joined with staff to help thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors move into safe, permanent housing every year. Because everyone deserves a home and a sense of security.

At this point I’m ready to take my advocacy from the streets across our state to the steps of Capitol Hill – because one victim is too many and one more strong female voice is one step closer to a more equal and just society.

That’s why I’m proud to be supported by strong women’s rights organizations such EMILY’s List and the Women’s Political Committee, as well as community leaders like Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Controller Wendy Greuel and Rep. Lois Capps as we stand with and stand up for women.

If we truly want to address the issue of sexual assault and harassment, the solution is simple.

We need more women in leadership positions and more women in Congress.

I hope to be one of them.

Katie Hill is an Agua Dulce resident and a Democratic candidate for California’s 25th Congressional District.

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