WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — One of the rising stars of the Republican Party is under fire for his alleged actions back in college.
BuzzFeed News originally broke the story about freshman Congressman Madison Cawthorn.
Those reporters spoke with more than three dozen people — who they say corroborated instances of sexual harassment and misconduct, saying Cawthorn was aggressive, misogynistic and predatory toward them — in some cases inappropriately touching them.
NewsNation spoke to two women who came from conservative Christian backgrounds. They said they hadn’t dated before and didn’t have a frame of reference when they agreed to hang out with Cawthorn.
Both of them said they initially blamed themselves for being alone with him, but now want voters to know their stories.
Madison Cawthorn is a rising star in the Republican Party. He is now representing North Carolina’s 11th district in the U.S. House of Representatives at just 25-years-old, a wheelchair user, vocal in his Christian beliefs and conservative values and dogged in his support of former President Donald Trump.
However, dozens of people who had personal interactions with him allege he has a dark side.
Caitlin Coulter recalls being invited to go for a drive with Cawthorn during her senior year at Patrick Henry College.
“He started taking me into the middle of nowhere Virginia down these windy back roads, and I remember just having that kind of gut feeling that something was off, something was wrong,” Coulter said.
She said Cawthorn started asking her about her purity ring and her sexual experiences.
“When I kind of kept shutting it down, at one point, he just got really angry and upset and violently kind of turned the car off around and headed back to campus, 70 maybe 80 miles an hour. Just very violent, very aggressively, clearly meant to be intimidating or to show me that I had made – he was upset,” Coulter said.
Like others who have spoken out, Coulter said initially she blamed herself and her lack of dating experience but now, hearing other women’s stories has had a change of heart.
“I felt dirty about it. I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone, and I wasn’t sure that what I thought had happened had really happened,” she said.
Katrina Krulikas said she knew Cawthorn from growing up in the same home-school community and had mutual friends.
She said her traumatic interaction happened when she was 17, and she agreed to go for a ride with him after he reached out to her on Facebook.
She said she rode with him into the woods, and he started asking about her sexual history.
“He starts to tell me at that point that he started having sex at 14. So, right away, I’m like, oh, he’s more experienced, and I don’t know how to handle any of this,” Krulikas said.
She said although she felt uncomfortable, she relented and sat on his lap at his insistence.
“And at that point, he tries to kiss me right away, and I pull back I say ‘no,'” Krulikas said. “A minute or two goes by, and suddenly he just lunges forward at me and grabs me, and I remember being so startled that I jumped back, and my hair got caught in his wheelchair. At that point, I’m just kind of shaken up. I remember having to pull some of my hair out to free myself from his wheelchair, and at that point, the date ends, and he drives me back to Biltmore Park, and we never spoke after that.”
Krulikas, too, said she initially blamed herself and felt too embarrassed to talk about the incident and, like other accusers, said, at the time, she didn’t know if it rose to the level of sexual misconduct.
Addy Baird — a government reporter at BuzzFeed — reported the original story with national reporter Brianna Sacks.
“It’s not like we’re talking about allegations in college 25 years ago. We’re talking about allegations in college 4-5 years ago,” Baird said.
Last November, when Cawthorn was running for Congress, 10 people signed an open letter describing what they called his “predatory behavior, misconduct toward his female peers and public misrepresentation of his past.”
“What a profound statement that is, that members of his own party and people who he went to school with, who would probably want to be proud that their college was represented at the national level, were coming out in droves,” Sacks said.
Cawthorn’s accusers said their message is an important one for other girls and women.
“A lot of us try to brush off small — or what we believe to be — small instances of sexual harassment or sexual assault. But it’s always bad, and it shouldn’t happen, and I feel like no matter the extent you believe or the severity you believe your experience to be, it’s still important to talk about,” Krulikas said.
NewsNation reached out to Cawthorn’s office, and got this response:
These questions were repeatedly asked and answered during the course of the campaign. The voters of Western North Carolina responded to these allegations by giving Madison Cawthorn a 12-point victory over his opponent.
On September 4th, 2020 Rep. Cawthorn responded to the questions you are asking, saying: “I have never done anything sexually inappropriate in my life.”
On September 4th, 2020 Rep. Cawthorn said: “If I have a daughter, I want her to grow up in a world where people know to explicitly ask before touching her. If I had a son, I want him to be able to grow up in a world where he would not be called a sexual predator for trying to kiss someone.”