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On not naming the harassees . . . scattered thoughts on Bob Filner's scandal

I've been trying for the past several days to write something about the shitshow going on in San Diego politics with Mayor Bob Filner's sexual harassment scandal. There's a main page article on it now, so I'm just going to point to that. There's a lot more that I'm thinking about it. I've been doing a lot of reading about it (way more than I should when I should be doing other things), even.


One of the things that hasn't really been talked about on Jezebel that I've noticed but has been a pretty big feature on San Diego news sites is the fact that in the news conference demanding Filner's resignation, his former supporters did not name the women who had come forward to them. Donna Frye asked people not to start a witch hunt for the accusers.

“I cannot in good conscience remain silent on this, even if those who have spoken to me choose to do so out of fear of retribution or the possibility of a media circus where they could be twice victimized,” . . . "I'm much more sympathetic to the people who have brought these allegations and the women who are too scared to speak," she said. "I feel that now this matter needs to be discussed with Mayor Filner. That needs to be the next step."


The fact that the call for resignation is coming without the naming of names (so far at least) and before lawsuits have been filed colors a lot of the public debate so far. People who don't want to believe the accusations have the anonymity of the accusers to point at as a reason to believe that the Mayor is being pushed out of office for other reasons. Words like "coup" and "railroading" are in the air. Bob Filner is refusing to resign with the words "due process". It's worth remembering that the court of public opinion is mob rule, but it's very important to remember exactly why these former employees are unwilling to become the center of attention.

These questions have been talked about more recently in a less politically charged atmosphere than city politics. In an essay regarding the recent sexual harassment discussion in the Science Fiction community, Mary Robinette Kowal wrote of several reasons why she was "afraid to name the editor."

Here are some of the reasons:

  • I don’t want to rock the boat. I’m worried about rocking a boat when I should be warning people that there are holes in it? How does being quiet make it any safer?
  • There’s a formal process for this. Right? Yes. And that formal process covers his employment, but what about at conventions? What about in our community?
  • Naming him could ruin his career. Yes. It might. Why am I trying to protect him instead of new writers?
  • Naming him could hurt mine. I don’t actually believe this, because anyone who would support this behavior is not someone I want to work with.
  • What if I get sued for defamation of character? Well… that’s a concern, isn’t it? But only if I’m repeating something that’s not true

Okay, so Kowal is expressing some of the fears and anxieties that go into the question of naming a sexual harasser even when that person has no direct power over them and in a situation that is nothing like the pressure cooker of politics. Also, she was not herself a victim of harassment, and she still felt the pressure not to come forward.

Here are a few more that could be added in this specific case:

  • "He's not just my boss, he's the Mayor." Can you imagine? Also, the first Democrat in the position in 20 years. That's some pressure not to rock the boat.
  • "If I accuse him, I'm accusing a former Freedom Rider." A past in which a person actively fights injustice, even a present in which a person is still fighting for the underdog in politics, whether it's for veterans, immigrants, or even women's bodily autonomy, does not excuse sexually predatory behavior or harassing employees.
  • "Everyone will accuse me of being a honeypot." It's happening on comment boards as we sit, read, and type. Also happening on the comments, though, are personal stories of witnessing improper behavior towards women in public events.
  • "If he resigns and someone worse for the city takes the job, people will blame me." Filner's opponent in the election was supported by Newt Gingrich and funded by the Koch Brothers. But even if you passionately believe that the politician you're working for is the best person possible for the job politically speaking, it doesn't put fault on the victim of sexual harassment for not enduring more for the cause. The failure belongs to the politician.

I don't have any grand pronouncements on any of these situations. But, the conversations I've been reading serve as a constant reminder of how difficult society makes it for people who have been sexually harassed to come forward about it.


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