Last year, former classmates of rising Republican star Madison Cawthorn shared that during his brief time at Patrick Henry College in the fall of 2016, Cawthorn was widely viewed as a serial sexual predator. In an open letter, they wrote that Cawthorn “established a reputation for predatory behavior,” notably inviting women on what the group of former students described as “joy rides” during which he would subject women to “unwanted sexual advances.”
As one former student, Philip Bunn, told Jezebel at the time, a whisper network had quickly sprung up on campus to warn women about Cawthorn. “Girls were warning other girls not to go on rides with him,” Bunn recalled. Another former classmate, Kara Brown, told Jezebel that Cawthorn would harass students whom he pursued. “He would just follow them around and continually ask them out over and over again, and just wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Brown said.
On Friday, BuzzFeed News published an in-depth report on Cawthorn’s time at Patrick Henry College and the allegations that Cawthorn engaged in predatory behavior and sexual harassment during his brief time as a student in 2016. What they found aligns with the allegations former students made in the open letter.
In addition to speaking with one woman whom Cawthorn took on what she described as a “scary” late-night car ride during which Cawthorn drove her to the “middle of nowhere,” BuzzFeed News spoke with several former students who recalled moments when Cawthorn made misogynistic comments, which they described as part of a pattern of behavior from the now-member of Congress.
Those comments included, according to former student Diego Lastra, remarks Cawthorn made ranking women’s sexual prowess based on race. Via BuzzFeed News, emphasis my own:
When they had hung out, Diego said, it felt like the frat that his college didn’t have. He said the guys would make vulgar jokes. One day at the start of the spring semester, Diego, then 18, said Cawthorn was driving him and some of their friends back to his house to a party when Cawthorn asked, “Which race of girls gives the best blowjobs?” Cawthorn then interrupted him, Diego said, answering his own question: “White girls are the worst, Black girls are second, Asian girls are the best.” Another PHC student who was in the car confirmed the story.
Based on Lastra’s recollection, Cawthorn once boasted of engaging in behavior that could be accurately described as assault during one of the car rides he took women on. Emphasis again my own:
Diego and the other PHC student said the boys in Cawthorn’s circle would brag about these late-night drives and tell stories about touching women, framing it like they were “conquests.” Diego said that Cawthorn would talk about how he would get women to sit in his lap, and at a party at his house one night, he told a story about a fellow classmate whom he pulled onto his lap and then put his finger in between her legs as she squirmed. Diego said he remembered Cawthorn saying, “Girls like that stuff.”
As for those car rides themselves, Caitlin Coulter, one of the women whom Cawthorn took on what he described as “fun drives,” recalled that once the two were in his car, the “energy changed.” Again, via BuzzFeed News:
He kept making “insinuations,” she said, asking about the purity ring on her finger, which she felt was an attempt to get her to talk about sex. She said she felt nervous and unsafe. For nearly 20 minutes, she said, she refused to answer the invasive and suggestive questions, shutting him down until he snapped.
He whipped the car around and drove back to campus recklessly, Coulter recalled. She said she had to hold on to her seat for parts of the drive back.
“It was really scary,” she said. “And just I remember just being very happy to make it back home safely.”
At times, Cawthorn’s efforts to convince women to go on these late-night rides with him became harassment. According to Leah Petree, who is now, according to BuzzFeed News, a “current Republican intern on Capitol Hill,” Cawthorn refused to take no for an answer when she declined to go on a date with him:
At first, Leah Petree, a current Republican intern on Capitol Hill and former PHC student, said she thought that Cawthorn’s pestering to take her on a “fun drive” during their classes was largely just annoying. But soon, she said, he started to get in her face more, grabbing her notebook during one class and scribbling across the page, asking her to go out with him. Petree told BuzzFeed News that Cawthorn persisted for weeks, despite her repeatedly reminding him that she had a boyfriend. She said he didn’t stop.
Outside her dorm, there was a parking spot reserved for drivers with disabilities, and Cawthorn would often park outside her building and call out to her while she crossed campus, asking her to join him on a drive. Petree said she grew so uncomfortable that she would check if he was outside before leaving the building.
“It caused different lifestyle changes like that,” said Petree, who also described his attempts to speak with her during class as distracting and embarrassing. “That’s unfortunate and certainly unacceptable.”
“Having to sit and listen to this man on a stage speak to us about his closeness with God or the events in his life, and knowing our experience with him, was really disappointing,” Petree told BuzzFeed News.
You can read the full BuzzFeed News investigation here.