Victims of sexual harassment discuss stories at conference

Yvonne Marquez

Two women did not bow down again to the self-proclaimed ‘King of Galveston,’ and their stories resonated with women at a Women’s and Gender Studies event Wednesday.

For years, Cathy McBroom and Donna Wilkerson were sexually harassed and assaulted by former federal judge Samuel Kent. They told their stories to about 50 audience members at a presentation that was part of a conference on sexual harassment sponsored by the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.

The two women worked in the Galveston courthouse with Kent starting in the early 2000s. Wilkerson said the assaults he would carry out there were sporadic — he would touch their breasts one day and then not do it again for months. His great height and vast power made him one of the most powerful men in the city, and he operated without fear, she said.

“It was a tightrope between telling him to stop without hurting his feelings,” Mcbroom said.

McBroom said she put up with the assaults because she did not want to lose her new job. She said being a case manager was the highest-paying job she ever had and she worked hard to have that position.

“I didn’t want the incident of one man to rob me of that,” McBroom said. “It was hard to talk about the nitty-gritty things.”

Wilkerson said she never confided the details of the harassments to family or close friends because she feared their judgment. She thought they wouldn’t understand why she wasn’t taking action against Kent.

“My back was against a wall,” Wilkerson said.

The whole situation took a toll on the women’s families. McBroom said she couldn’t be the glue to her family anymore because she was falling apart so she let go of her marriage. Donna said she was trying to raise her kids while working for Kent. She said having a teenage daughter herself was hard because she was trying to teach her how to present herself and about sexuality.

“I had to look her in the eye and tell her to do something I couldn’t do myself,” Donna said.

Eventually, the two women reported the assaults. The FBI got involved, and Kent was impeached in 2009 for lying about sexually assaulting the women.

“It’s amazing how these really bright women were caught in this web where they ended up feeling like they had some responsibility for this judge’s behavior,” said Sandy Poffinbarger, Women’s and Gender Studies graduate student. “It was a high level of manipulation.”

Anthropology senior Cynthia Villanueva said she has read many books on sexual harassment cases and understands how hard it can be to stand up to someone, let alone a judge. She said it is hard to be a woman and victim in law proceedings, which are dominated by men.

“[The presentation] told a story of women becoming powerful through their dramatic experience and it gives us advice that we can also do it,” Villanueva said. “We should never stand sexual assault or harassment. We can do something about it, so never stay quiet about it.”