Bernie Sanders exposed! A shocking look at his views on rape and violence against women

A shocking 1972 essay was just the tip of the iceberg. Salon dives deeper

Published May 29, 2015 8:48PM (EDT)

  (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)
(AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

Mother Jones senior reporter Tim Murphy has a profile out this week on Bernie Sanders’ “long, strange trip” from a “restless political activist” to mayor of Burlington, Vermont and now a presidential bid. It’s a fascinating read, not just as a document of Sanders’ earliest forays into politics but as a portrait of Sanders as a committed, cantankerous, deep freak member of the progressive movement and counterculture.

Along with other archival material, the piece included a 1972 essay published in the Vermont Freeman that Murphy described as Sanders’ “stream-of-consciousness essay on the nature of male-female sexual dynamics.” It’s an attempted critique of heteronormativity -- a clumsy and weird-as-hell attempted critique of heteronormativity.

An excerpt:

A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused.

A woman enjoys intercourse with her man -- as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.
The man and woman get dressed up on Sunday -- and go to Church, or maybe to their "revolutionary" political meeting.

Have you ever looked at the Stag, Man, Hero, Tough magazines on the shelf of your local bookstore? Do you know why the newspaper with the articles like "Girl 12 raped by 14 men" sell so well? To what in us are they appealing?

The man and woman have an argument, and the whole thing ends like this: “And they never again made love together (which they had each liked to do more than anything) or never ever saw each other one more time.”

In response to the article making the rounds, Sanders' campaign spokesman Michael Briggs said it was a "dumb attempt at dark satire in an alternative publication" that "in no way reflects his views or record on women."

"It was intended to attack gender stereotypes of the '70s, but it looks as stupid today as it was then," he told CNN.

But some people in conservative media, like respected anti-rape activists Bill Kristol and Erick Erickson, are very concerned about the article and what it may mean about Sanders’ views on rape. I decided to investigate, and it turns out that Bernie Sanders does, indeed, have a long record on the issue of violence against women.

Some of the more troubling recent highlights:

In 2003, Sanders was among 32 co-sponsors of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a measure to "establish a zero-tolerance standard" for sexual violence in prison. (The measure passed unanimously, but enforcement has been weak in the last decade.)

In 2011, Sanders co-sponsored a measure to address the rape kit backlog. Here's how Sen. Dianne Feinstein, another of the bill's co-sponsors, explained the measure: "Thousands of rape kits sit untested in police storage facilities nationwide. This is lost justice for rape victims. Testing DNA evidence in rape kits is a crucial tool to help law enforcement arrest and prosecute rapists. The Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act will make sure that victims are no longer denied the necessary tools for justice."

In 2012, Sanders co-sponsored the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. Here's how he explained that vote: “The act has been extremely successful in Vermont and across the country. While we are reducing the incidence of domestic violence, much more has to be done. Too many girls and women are still suffering from domestic violence and sexual abuse and that must end."

In 2013, he called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to "step up efforts to provide care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual assault in the military“ so that they "receive the care and benefits needed to confront the emotional and physical consequences of this horrific experience.”

In 2014, Sanders voted for New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal to move the system of reporting and prosecuting rape in the military outside the chain of command. When that bill failed, Sanders issued the following statement about rape:

An estimated 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2012, a 37 percent increase in just one year, according to a recent Department of Defense study. I voted for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill because it would give servicemen and women an independent route outside the chain of command to report serious crimes, and I am disappointed that it was defeated… I also supported a separate measure by Sen. Claire McCaskill that includes some important reforms, but remain concerned that it does not go far enough. Victims of rape and sexual assault in the military deserve a fair and independent system outside the chain of command to report these types of crimes.

And just last month, Sanders balked at the GOP budget proposal because, among other programs put on the chopping block, it would slash funds for domestic violence service providers. He said at the time that “funding to help victims of domestic violence in Vermont could be slashed by more than $270,000, including funding for the STOP Violence Against Women Program that helps states provide support services for victims of domestic violence.”

The truth is out, and the public -- aided by fearless women's rights advocate Erick Erickson -- will not rest until Sanders explains his record.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

MORE FROM Katie McDonough

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Bernie Sanders Bill Kristol Erick Erickson Military Sexual Assault Rape Violence Against Women