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The Women Who Accused Filner Talk About Coming Forward

Evening Edition

San Diego is moving forward from a summer plagued by scandal. Bob Filner is now former mayor Filner. We are no longer hearing about a new accuser every day or every week; but what about the women who did come forward regarding Filner's unwanted advances? KPBS Metro reporter Sandhya Dirks explores with some of them what it ultimately meant to speak out.

The women who came forward to accuse former Mayor Bob Filner of unwanted sexual advances stepped into a glaring spotlight. They became targets for a hungry media machine, anxious for every salacious detail. At times they became targets in another way, with people accusing the women right back, claiming they had ulterior motives, such as certain political leanings, greed or self-aggrandizement.

Aired 9/5/13 on KPBS News.

Some of the first women to publicly accuse former mayor Bob Filner talk about what it was like to come forward, and why they waited to speak up.

Special Feature Read the Backstory

All of the accusations, statements and apologies from the key players in the developing story about allegations of sexual harassment in Mayor Bob Filner's office and calls from former mayoral supporters for his resignation.

The critics’ implications were clear: they believed these women were “selling” their stories in the marketplace of a media frenzy, that they were part of a witch hunt. Some people wondered if Filner was being pushed out of office by forces unhappy with his progressive agenda. Others said they believed the women who spoke out were part of a conspiracy to unseat the first Democratic mayor of San Diego in decades.

On the day the mayor resigned, many Filner supporters spoke up during a special meeting of the city council.

Labor activist Joan Raymond wondered why the women had only come forward now.

"I was brought up to be a strong woman and to immediately put a man in check if he was getting out of hand, not to wait and jump on a political band wagon," she said.

Some who spoke, especially those from marginalized communities, said they felt Filner had given them a voice for the first time.

Maria Ochoa said through a Spanish translator, "If we know that the laws are very delicate for sexual harassment, why did they wait so long, who paid them off, why did they make these accusations now?"

There is a legitimate question about why and when the women came forward with their claims. Part of that question is why it is so hard for victims of sexual harassment, mistreatment and abuse to come forward. It was a question I also asked as I reported this story.

The answer in part can be found in what these woman experienced after they told their stories. The accusations they faced and the doubt their claims received is part of the reason coming forward is not an easy equation.

Joined by attorney Gloria Allred, Peggy Shannon, 67, accuses Mayor Bob Filner of unwanted sexual advances at a press conference, Aug. 15, 2013.

In the back of the council chambers on the day of Filner's resignation sat Peggy Shannon, a city hall employee who came forward to accuse Filner of inappropriate behavior.

"I just wanted to sit back here and listen," Shannon said. "They’ve heard me, they’ve seen what I had to say. I didn’t want..." Shannon paused, "to be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to be booed," she said with a laugh. She knew it was an emotional room.

"They've booed other people," she said.

One woman who had accused Filner did approach the podium to give her perspective. Laura Fink, the second woman to publicly accuse Filner reminded the council to think of the women who have been his alleged victims.

Fink said the questions many Filner supporters raised — asking why the women only came forward now — were ones she had heard many times before.

She said women don’t come forward because “they understand the disparity in power, I think they also believe they will be dismissed, that their character will be attacked, or that they wont be believed, and all of those things happened to me.”

But why didn’t she come forward sooner? For Fink, the answer is simple: She came forward when the topic began to be discussed publicly, when former supporters of Filner reached out in press conferences to support the women. When she felt her story would count, when it would mean something, Fink did come forward.

Before that, Fink said, she felt like what happened to her happened in a bubble and she just didn’t think any one would take her word.

“There is strength in numbers,” she said. “I imagine what it would be like if I was the only one coming out, and people ask these questions, 'Why didn’t you come out sooner? Why didn’t you come out during the campaign?'”

Fink said until Donna Frye, Marco Gonzalez and Corey Briggs — the former Filner supporters — began to speak up for the as yet unnamed women, all she felt she could do was scream in the dark.

“You as an individual, as a person have to do a calculus as to whether your coming forward will be effective and­­­ impactful and believed,” Fink said. She said she believed if she had spoken out on her own earlier, “I probably would have been really eviscerated and my motives would have been questioned far more than in this situation.”

Morgan Rose was the third Filner accuser to come forward this summer. She said speaking out was at first an agonizing decision.

“You can­­­­ be very vulnerable to crucifixion and character assassination by people who have never ever spent a minute ­­­with you” she said. “That happened and that’s OK. That’s not the important part.”

The important part for her, she said, is that the man she felt had violated her is no longer in office.

What happened to Rose happened in 2009. So why did she stay silent in the intervening years?

“He was a Congressman,” she said. “He already had my home phone number. He could get my social security number, my home address, my place of work. So no, I was not going to come forward at that time.”

This time, Rose said, she felt she could come forward in part because other women had spoken out, in part because the swell of accusations had risen to a fever pitch. Both Rose and Fink said it was far easier to join a conversation than to start one they felt would inspire only backlash.

Morgan Rose said she received unwanted sexual advances from then-Congressman Bob Filner in 2009.

Both women said they felt compelled to speak because they knew there might be women who still could not. They wanted to give a voice to what they now see as not their own story, but the story of many women who had been the recipient of unwanted sexual advances by Filner.

Rose said it still wasn’t an easy choice.

"Any woman in this position, in this kind of drama — we’re in a lose-lose situation often — but with us all coming forward, that theme, that pattern became so evident,” she said. “People that might not have believed our story initially or thought it was for political reasons, had to start admitting, 'No, maybe we have something here.'”

Rose said making herself a public figure — and in this case, a public victim — carried with it repercussions. After Rose gave her first interview to KPBS, she went away on an already scheduled vacation. Even half way across the world, she was still recognized. There was no escaping what she had done.

For Fink, the scrutiny was fast and furious. Soon after she left the interview we did in the KPBS studios, she learned that news vans were waiting outside her apartment.

“There were reporters yelling into my apartment,” Fink said. “Yelling my name, bothering my neighbors, banging on the door — it was frightening. I just didn’t realize how intense the coverage was going to be.”

Laura Fink, the owner of the political consulting firm Fink & Hernandez Consulting LLC, worked for then-Congressman Bob Filner from 2004 to 2006.

Fink had to sneak out to spend this night at a friend’s house.

Fink said coming forward and speaking out opened up a conversation beyond what she had expected. Women would approach her on the street and tell her their stories of harassment. Female journalists who interviewed her would start off by confessing that it happened to them. Friends she had known for years would do the same. All of a sudden, Fink said, sexual harassment was everywhere.

“It was frightening how pervasive this behavior is across the board,” Fink said. “It took me aback, because I thought—is this the world we are leaving to our daughters? Where sexual harassment is a rite of passage, where its rare if it doesn’t happen to you? It’s just extraordinarily upsetting.”

Fink’s normally confident voice was cracking, but then she looked at me and smiled.

“We hope we can change that,” she said.

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | September 5, 2013 at 11:15 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Dear Attorney General Kamala Harris: I was slugged in the testicles. Regarding case #13-032055 misdemeanor sexual assault against my person during Mayor Bob Filner Isn't Welcome Back Here Rally outside City Hall in San Diego while being interviewed by UT-TV. I felt the most important thing was release of the photograph of the female perpetrator to the Mayor's security detail.

That ought to have been done soonest but I'm sure it hasn't happened to date. I'll be out of town for 21 days starting Sept. 17th.

News story: "Investigators for California Attorney General Kamala Harris have interviewed some of the women who have accused Filner of unwanted touching and suggestive comments. A source familiar with the situation said that Filner could face felony or misdemeanor charges of assault and battery, false imprisonment or other crimes."

Why has it taken so long to obtain video taken Aug. 12, 2013 from that interview?

I'll be in Sacramento a couple of days during my out-of-town-stay. And I'd like to set up an appointment with you, Dear Attorney General. Friday Sept. 20, 2013 would be good -- as would Oct 2nd. In fact anytime, any date, anywhere in California.

SAN DIEGO--according to a front-page, above the fold LA Times story by Tony Perry, August 23, 2013, 6:07 p.m.~ "Mayor Bob Filner, who submitted his resignation after the City Council agreed to pay for some of his expenses from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him, is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the state." Facing the cameras and the Council that previous afternoon, the San Diego Mayor said he was being lynched.

Officer Duerr, her partner and I met 15 Aug 2013 5:07 p.m. at her office in the police substation at 25th & Imperial. Earlier I'd met with a different SDPD officer for a field interview.

This was AFTER San Diego Mayor Bob Filner served as a witness on behalf of an activist for seals at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla, criticizing his own police department for citing the defendant and the city attorney’s office for prosecuting him.

And that was BEFORE he'd been lynched.

Your personal review of the U-T newspaper's scurrilous Filner File would be the cheapest and most handy way at getting at the truth; another way of getting at the truth would be to depose all the attorneys assigned to your office in San Diego as to the build up of hearsay evidence and its effects regarding the now ex-mayor's purported "felony or misdemeanor charges of assault and battery, false imprisonment or other crimes."

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | September 5, 2013 at 11:18 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

The 200+ members of the Democratic National Committee meeting in Phoenix voted unanimously by voice without discussion to demand his resignation (and the language of the motion added that, should former 10-term Democratic Congressman Bob Filner not resign the mayoralty, any and all measures would be pursued to rid the political scene of his noxious presence including bonding with Glenn Beck & His Rancho Santa Fe Hooters). Bob had signed his resignation prior to the convocation of the DNC and that signed document was being held by a mediator pending City Council of San Diego acceptance and more importantly, public input on the details of a done deal. My father's greatest thrill was being selected to drive Eleanor Roosevelt to a $100-a-plate fundraiser at the El Cortez Hotel in downtown San Diego when I was twelve years old. She stopped by our house to use the facilities. She placed her hand on my head -- sealing me in the Tribe of the Old Shoe forever. That was in '56. In Dec. '61, I attended a Martin Luther King Jr. speech at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It was announced he would leave through the front entrance, and the audience was urged to stay in the seats. But I stood in the aisle anyway, and he shook my hand as he and his entourage left the building. In '08 I was a delegate to the Hawaii State Convention (for the third time). I was pledged to Hillary. I couldn't understand why my fellow Unitarians were reluctant to support Hillary. Then it was pointed out to me that Maya Kassandra Soetoro-Ng is the maternal half-sister of Barack Obama, who is the 44th and current President of the United States, sang in the choir with her husband Konrad, had received their early religious education upstairs). I continued to send small contributions to Hillary even after Madame Nancy Pelosi urged Hillary to withdraw. I sent her $20 eight times for her eight primary victories after the Speaker's ukase.

If the DNC wanted to help female candidates by lynching Bob Filner, they've failed. I much prefer the candidate who, "hillocky bull in the swelter of summer/ come in his great, good time To the sultry, biding herd" over that lynch mob of Phoenix -- the DNC.

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Avatar for user 'MarineRoom'

MarineRoom | September 5, 2013 at 11:42 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Gee, must be a slow news day. Harking back to past glories already.

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Avatar for user 'MarineRoom'

MarineRoom | September 5, 2013 at 11:54 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Thompsonrichard, you have put that Eleanor story out to post before, but this time I copied and pasted it to my desktop, because I do so like it:)

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Avatar for user 'CarlosDangler'

CarlosDangler | September 5, 2013 at 12:03 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

There are devilish figures mobilizing outside the nation scheming to destroy it and 5000 mobilizing conspirators who are lurking inside the nation, forming coalitions that have to be fought against. We all need to keep a close out out too for the rich and powerful manipulating the system for their own gain trying to destroy us causing treacherous lower classes to break through the constraints and police controls to launch an orgy of rape and looting.

They're coming to take me away .... i'm starting to believe all of your conspiracy theories ... hee hee hoo hoo haaa haaa!

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Avatar for user 'Anon11'

Anon11 | September 5, 2013 at 12:18 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Problem 1 is that these women are speculating what will happen if they bring the issue to light.

Problem 2 is that these women are speaking as if bringing the issue to light involves announcing it to the public. You are allowed to call the police and have them file a report. You are allowed to go to HR or internal affairs or whatever it's called and file a report. You do not even need to alert anyone else to the situation.

You can't state a fear of public scrutiny when there is no need to divulge it publicly.

That's why people are so suspicious of ulterior motives. There hasn't been any concrete rationalization of their actions. This is why due process is important... so the tough questions can be asked and scrutinized. You can't plead ignorance. (like they're doing now)

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Avatar for user 'daves'

daves | September 5, 2013 at 1:35 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

KPBS has lost its reputation and all future donations from me.

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Avatar for user 'CarlosDangler'

CarlosDangler | September 5, 2013 at 6 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Walker's five kinds of conspiracy theories: Enemy Outside, Enemy Within, Enemy Above, Enemy Below, Benevolent Conspiracies has developed a historical typology of five basic kinds of conspiracy theories in the past regarding nations (or organizations). The first identifies an “Enemy Outside”, with devilish figures mobilizing outside the nation or organization scheming to destroy it. The “Enemy Within” finds the conspirators are lurking inside the nation, forming coalitions that have to be fought against. The “Enemy Above” explains that it is the rich and powerful who are manipulating the system for their own gain. The “Enemy Below” model warns that the lower classes are ready to break through the constraints and police controls to launch an orgy of rape and looting. Finally, there are the “Benevolent Conspiracies,” where secret forces – perhaps including angels-–work behind the scenes to improve the world and help individuals.

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Avatar for user 'LaMesa_dude'

LaMesa_dude | September 5, 2013 at 6:27 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Wow... KPBS keeps milking this Filner thing for all it's worth. Very disappointing and yes, I am reconsidering my monthly dues. Fink's 15 minutes is about up I hope. That "pat" on the posterior was probably the best thing ever for her career.

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Avatar for user 'CarlosDangler'

CarlosDangler | September 5, 2013 at 7:31 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, but not the best for Filner's career and let's not forget who instigated the whole groping thing. It wasn't Fink. Interesting how there seems to be substantial number of fringe democrats who remain apologists for Filner. It looks pretty bad for the Democratic. I don't get it. Why don't you apologists start backing Weiner. He's a narcissistic democrat in a sex scandal too and he needs your help now. His ship is not completely sunk yet. Try your misinformation campaign on New York blogs, perhaps that might help his cause. God knows he needs help.

Thanks PBS. I'm considering upping my membership PBS. You are open-minded enough to allow alternative opinions as crazy as they are. Thanks for not caving into the extremists in the local Democratic party in terms of your reporting too and remaining professional throughout. And thanks too for understanding who the real victims are these last months. Thanks for looking out for our Women.

Your reporting is on the side of what is right.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | September 6, 2013 at 11:33 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

@DAVES, they lost them from me waaaay back before September 11th when they sold out to LGBT militants.

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Avatar for user 'CarlosDangler'

CarlosDangler | September 6, 2013 at 12:28 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

You give nothing and yet you take free and full advantage of their services to promote your conspiracy theories to the ether. How cool of that of KPBS. Democracy at work even for the miserly fringe voices crying to be heard. You ought to consider giving again MissionA in addidition to taking. You'll feel better about your place in the world and perhaps your worldview perspective will the optimistic boost it needs.

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Avatar for user 'mccolgan55'

mccolgan55 | September 7, 2013 at 12:05 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

So we have a woman who founded her own company, strong, independent, wondering "I thought—is this the world we are leaving to our daughters?" Yes, you are if you didn't want to come forward at the time, 2005, because you were trying to get into politics and Filner was known as a vindictive person.
Since you (and others) didn't bring it up through his superiors (and yes even Congressmen have superiors) and didn't want to bring charges, even though there were many witnesses BACK IN 2005 he would not have been able to continue his totally inappropriate behavior for the following 8 YEARS! This is why women are their own worst enemy, even those who have some power do not use it for the betterment of all because of selfish reasons.

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Avatar for user 'CarlosDangler'

CarlosDangler | September 7, 2013 at 8:28 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

McColgan55 - Perhaps you should consider starting San Diego Chapter of the D.W.H.C.
Democratic Woman Haters Club. Rumor has it the National Chapter has an immediate opening for a new stooge as Filner was let go for not paying his dues.

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | September 8, 2013 at 3:37 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

@Carlos. That's mighty nice of you. Up it enough to cover what Daves and I won't be paying. Thank you.

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Avatar for user 'CarlosDangler'

CarlosDangler | September 8, 2013 at 5:46 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Will do Len. I must admit i am surprised because initially I did not have your name identified on the freeloader list but thank you for the update / duly noted, Perhaps with the money you and Daves save from not giving, you will have enough to buy something nice for yourselves. A book perhaps?

"For it is in giving that we receive."
― Francis of Assisi

"Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need."
― Khalil Gibran

“Speak the truth do not become angered and give when asked, even be it a little. By these three conditions one goes to the presence of the gods.”
― Gautama Buddha

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
― Winston Churchill

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
― Charles Dickens

“My Karma is going to run over my Dogma.”
― Len and Daves

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