Xeni Jardin, a well-known tech culture journalist and co-editor of Boing Boing, said on Twitter Wednesday that she was once sexually assaulted by former Democratic Sen. Birch Bayh — father of former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, who announced Wednesday that he is running to reclaim his Senate seat in Indiana.
Bayh's dad sexually assaulted me in the back of a taxpayer-paid town car. With 2 of my male startup co-workers present. True story.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
The men said literally nothing. Bayh kept trying to pull me on to his lap. It was a professional encounter, I was in my 20s, froze up.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
Jardin said this kind of treatment is depressingly common for women in technology. She also explained why she is speaking out about it now, and why she didn’t at the time:
Lots of tales like that to share. Being a woman in technology has been tough for decades y'all. But yeah. Birch Bayh groped me.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
Guys this stuff was normal and happened everywhere all the time. It just seemed like standard work hazards. Just want y'all to know.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
I'm a rape survivor and the untreated trauma around that made the natural response "freeze and be quiet until it's over." So I did.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
Nobody spoke up for me. I grew up with abuse, didn't know yet I could speak up for me. I do now. I want other women to know they can too.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
PS I am fine now. I have a lot of help and support and recovery, this is not a cry for help. Was a long, long time ago.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
She added that this has nothing to do with Evan Bayh or his Senate campaign, but that Bayh’s announcement Wednesday reminded her again about the experience with his father.
I have never met Evan Bayh and have no opinion on his campaign or anything. Just been a while since I've thought of that car ride.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
And how my male co-workers said and did nothing, pretended they didn't even see or hear, so as not to jinx the big $$$ deal at stake.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
They lost the deal. I eventually found my self esteem and the tools to keep myself safe. XOXO plz don't sue me this is my truth.— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 13, 2016
Jardin’s allegation is jarring given how famous Birch Bayh was for his work on women’s rights during his time in the Senate. He is known as the “father of Title IX,” the civil rights law that protects women’s equal opportunity in education — one of the most important legal tools that victims of campus sexual assault have to seek justice.
But sexual harassment and assault know no ideological bounds, as recent controversy over sexual harassment in the progressive movement has shown. Public values don’t always align with private action.
It’s also incredibly common for victims of sexual assault to not speak out publicly about their experiences for years, due to shame, trauma, or fear of personal or professional retaliation.
This is especially true when the perpetrator is a powerful man with leverage over a woman’s career or social status. That’s also why it shouldn’t surprise us that the recent sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, and sexual harassment allegations against Fox CEO Roger Ailes, span decades and come from multiple women — many of whom didn’t speak out until someone else came forward first.
Vox has reached out to both Jardin and Bayh for comment.