It was spring of 2017, and Sarah Sherman was at a career crossroads. In search of some help, even just advice from a trusted source, her husband, John, suggested she grab coffee with his former mentor, a retired, seasoned fellow journalist.
“I was already feeling vulnerable,” she says.
She knew the man well. She’d seen him out on “coffee dates” with other women, usually white, oftentimes married and young. But then again, he was married too, and her husband trusted him, and she’d been on dinner dates with them.
The pair met up at the Starbucks in Mount Washington Mill. The conversation started out fine; he asked about her husband, her health (Sherman had recovered from a bout with cancer) and expressed some interest in her career.
The dynamic quickly changed. He grabbed Sherman’s hand and held it on the table, which made her nervous.
“He wouldn’t let me pull it away, and it was out for everyone to see.”
But she rationalized the flirtation: “For me, I thought it was an old fart who wants to be seen with younger women, and he can do it in a public way and it makes him feel great, and it’s a total ego boost.”
Then came the advance: “If I was with you, I would just be jacking off under this table,” motioning with his hand.
“I found myself laughing because I didn’t know what else to do…it was a defensive mechanism,” she says.
She called him a “dirty old man,” asking what his wife would say to that. He deflected. “I just want to go home with you and take a nap,” he pressed further. “I just want to lie down next to you. We don’t have to take our clothes off.” He asked her to meet with him again so they could take walks together in the woods.
Sherman felt infantilized, she says. “It was so bizarre that it was taking time for it to sink in. I just could not believe it.”
She wanted to leave, but felt stuck. He offered to drive her to her car, which was parked inconveniently far away. She declined. He insisted, and she eventually accepted.
“I wanted it to be over,” she says.
On their short drive, he asked what she was doing in her spare time. As she was answering, he interrupted, “God, you’re so gorgeous.” According to Sherman, he advanced again, grabbing her: “You really need a massage, you’re so stressed out. Come here.”
She wanted to get out.
“You’ve got to give me a kiss before we get out of this car. Just one?” he asked.
She declined; he again insisted.
“I just gave him a kiss on the cheek so I could get the f— out of the car,” she says.
Hours later, he texted her, “When are we gonna get that walk?’” punctuated with flame emojis.
Distraught, she told John of the exchange. She told her husband’s old mentor not to contact them again. When he did reach out days later, John told him to leave their family alone: “Don’t ever f*****g call us again. I know what you did, don’t ever try it.” His former colleague said he wanted to explain; Sarah’s husband stood by his wife.
He kept reaching out to Sarah and John asking to have dinner. “He was turning it on me, like I was the gross one, and I was making it out to be something that it wasn’t.”
Months passed, and she stashed the experience away, trying to forget about it. She later ran into him at a gas station on N. Charles Street in the fall while getting her oil changed. She says he purposely got in line right next to her, “shoulder to shoulder. I could hear him breathing.” They didn’t talk, but she says he was trying to physically intimidate her.
She later ran into a couple of his former female colleagues, and told them about the incident. They were dismayed she accepted the invitation, Sherman says: “Oh my god, you went on that coffee?…Everyone knows not to go on them.”
A half-year later, when dozens of accusers came out in the press against Hollywood film executive Harvey Weinstein—and then a chain reaction that brought down actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., NBC’s Matt Lauer, and many others—it all came bubbling back to Sarah. She began thinking of the other women she’d seen out with him for “coffee dates,” the uncomfortable looks that she’d noticed on their faces.
“The biggest takeaway for me was just the power game,” she reflects. “I started seeing power everywhere I looked, I just couldn’t help but see power dynamics.”
She saw it in politics as well; a flood of allegations emerged in Washington as the #MeToo movement gained steam, leading to a handful of lawmakers’ resignations.
It was clear to Sherman that women there were suffering, too: “It’s just a giant #MeToo situation up on Capitol Hill, with no women represented.”
She saw a worthy fight, and an opportunity. She’s since spearheaded an effort to launch a new super PAC dubbed “Vote Me Too.” Its central goal: raising money for female congressional candidates in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
Sherman is listed in FEC records as its treasurer. The Vote Me Too PAC officially launched and began fundraising in March.
“It’s becoming my full-time job,” she says. “If I can help one woman get into office and start making laws in which this power imbalance can be shifted on a grand scale, I’ll be proud of what I have done.”