What would you say if I told you a leading member of the feminist “Me Too” movement turned out to be a sexual harasser? That’s what just happened when California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell/Downey), 41, who appeared on the cover of Time magazine last year as one of Me Too’s “Persons of the Year,” was accused of sexual harassment by a male legislative staffer and a lobbyist. How embarrassing!
Here’s how Politico’s Carla Marinucci reported the story: “In December, when Time magazine announced that ‘Silence Breakers’ who spoke out against sexual harassment were its Persons of the Year, Ms. Garcia’s face was prominently included” on the magazine’s cover. “But political consultant Daniel Fierro of Cerritos told Politico that in 2014, as a 25-year-old (legislative) staffer ... he was groped by Garcia, a powerful Democratic lawmaker who chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus.”
According to Fierro, Ms. Garcia “cornered him alone after the annual Assembly softball game ... and began stroking his back, then squeezed his buttocks and attempted to touch his crotch before he extricated himself and quickly left.” Fierro added Garcia “appeared to be inebriated,” as in drunk. I wonder if this is what Ms. Garcia means when she talks about “female empowerment.”
Marinucci’s story also included allegations by a prominent Sacramento lobbyist who said Ms. Garcia “cornered him (and) made a graphic sexual proposal at a political fundraiser,” adding she became “increasingly flirtatious” and called him several times after that to invite him for late-night drinks. “I’ve set a goal for myself to f**k you,” she told the lobbyist. Wisely, Garcia has taken a leave of absence from the Legislature while these allegations are being investigated.
So sexual harassment isn’t always about male chauvinist pigs because women aren’t entirely blameless in some cases. However, I don’t intend to downplay the seriousness of other high profile domestic or sexual abuse cases such as the domestic violence case involving former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter or sexual harassment cases involving celebrities like Bill Cosby and notorious Hollywood groper Harvey Weinstein, or powerful politicians like ex-President Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault. Sadly, he usually defends the harassers and ignores their traumatized victims.
Another side to the sexual harassment story involves false charges against alleged harassers — fake accusations that ruin peoples’ lives. Two well-known false accusation cases involved Duke University lacrosse players who were prosecuted by an overly zealous district attorney — who was subsequently disbarred — and an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house that never occurred. That single-sourced fake story was published by Rolling Stone, which was roundly condemned by respectable media and respected journalists.
My friend and fellow columnist, Genoa attorney Jim Hartman, has written about what he calls “Title IX kangaroo courts” on college campuses. “Without due process an innocent student can be branded as a rapist for life,” he wrote, calling for an end to “guilty until proven innocent” policies on college campuses and emphasizing the need for due process for those accused of rape and sexual harassment.
Sexual abuse and sexual harassment are complicated societal issues that must be dealt with in a serious way rather than with a rush to judgment. In a 24/7 media world, charges are often made public before all of the facts are known, or before the accused have an opportunity to defend themselves. In our legal system everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, something called “due process.” Keep that in mind next time you see lurid sexual harassment headlines.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.