When Gwen Snyder attended last month’s Democratic National Convention as a delegate, she hoped to cheer on former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and witness history as Hillary Clinton became the first woman to take up her party’s mantle. A survivor of sexual assualt, Snyder was surprised to hear a powerful message from Vice President Joe Biden on July 27 about the dangers women face from male abusers.
But she would end the convention’s penultimate evening frightened and disheartened, after fellow PA delegate and Delaware County resident Walter Weeks allegedly sexually assaulted her.
Snyder reported the incident to the Philadelphia Police Department, but she said on Aug. 12 that detectives told her Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams had declined to pursue her case. (The district attorney’s office did not return requests for comment by press time.)
"I'm just sad and disappointed,” she said. “I made a report less than 12 hours after it happened. I gave them witness contact information, gave them my attacker's name, travelled in the back of a squad car for 90 minutes in order to give a statement, everything. I don't know what else I could have done."
Snyder had already spoken publicly about her shock at the lack of response from hotel staff and convention organizers when she reported the incident. In an open letter to Biden and Clinton, Snyder detailed her experience, concluding, “there was no system in place at the DNC to support me.”
“No one seemed to know how to revoke his [Weeks’ DNC] credentials,“ she wrote. “Although I had witnesses, the hotel told me that because I reported the incident to police, their policy was to evict me and my attacker – or neither of us.”
As a whip for Sanders’ PA delegation, Snyder had no intention of leaving. She chose the latter option.
“I had to see my attacker at every party, at every breakfast, at every evening convention,” wrote Snyder, a University of Pennsylvania student and current labor organizer with the Philadelphia chapter of the nonprofit organization Jobs with Justice.
Snyder told City&State PA that DNC organizers could take a lesson from the state party on how to handle a situation like hers.
“Soon after the DNC, Sen. Judith Schwank (PA-11) acted as a strong advocate and sent a letter to state party officials, making sure they were aware of the details of my experience after the assault,” she said. “Since then, (PA Dems executive director) Sinceré Harris, Adam Bonin,” a lawyer for the state party, “and (PA Dems chairman) Marcel Groen have all reached out personally and empathetically, letting me know that they are actively working on new, substantive policies to address assault, and soliciting my input and feedback.”
Although DNC organizers “took a report” about the incident, Snyder said they had not been in contact with her since.
The incident unfolded in the early hours of July 28. Returning from an 11 p.m. final gavel to her Center City hotel around 2 a.m., Snyder was tired and hungry. She told Philadelphia Magazine she went to the bar inside the Doubletree Hotel at Broad and Locust streets, where the PA delegation had reserved a block of rooms.
Weeks was one of two other delegates at the bar at the time. Recognizing Snyder, he offered her an apparently conciliatory hug, which she politely brushed off. Weeks persisted, pulling her into a bear hug and, she recounted, he began “aggressively” licking her breasts.
“I’m sorry. We’re still friends, right?” Weeks said after the incident, according to Snyder.
As of press time, Weeks had not responded to an email or call to his home phone number.
On social media during and after the convention, Weeks primarily posted gleeful reactions to convention speakers, and shots of him posing with Philadelphia DJ Jerry Blavat. He basked in the brief internet fame he received after an MSNBC video of him licking his lips during Katy Perry’s DNC performance went viral, eventually appearing on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
“Enjoying the concert at the convention,” he wrote on Facebook, with a screenshot of himself from the performance broadcast about a week after the alleged assault.
In the 2000s, the Philadelphia-born Weeks was registered as a Republican and living in New Jersey, according to county voting records. He switched party affiliation and purchased a home in Delaware County nine years ago. He launched a crowdfunding page this year to defray his convention expenses, raising around $800.
Despite the DA’s decision, Snyder wrote in an email that she will stay focused on trying to prevent incidents like what happened to her from occurring – and to provide clear guidelines on what to do if they do happen – in the future. “On a more positive note,” she said, “I've been able to have conversations with a number of leaders in the party, and I'm hoping that together we can work to build meaningful policy to address sexual assault at conventions and conferences.”