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Filner Saga Exposes Hurdles In Reporting And Dealing With Sexual Harassment

Above: San Diego school psychologist Morgan Rose accused Bob Filner of making unwanted sexual advances toward her after she met with him when he was a congressman in 2005 to discuss a national initiative for children.

Aired 9/24/13 on KPBS News.

Targets of sexual harassment may still be still reluctant to report the abuse, but experts say the case involving former Mayor Bob Filner can help raise public consciousness about the issue.

Bob Filner’s resignation as San Diego’s mayor after only nine months in office revealed a mix of progress and status quo when it comes to sexual harassment.

The scandal showed power still spawns abuse, and women still choose silence, but when they do speak up, change can be speedy.

“What has not changed is the fact that men will still behave badly, that women will still have similar reactions," said former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye.

"They’re afraid to talk about it. They feel embarrassed. They’re ashamed. They feel no one will believe them,” she said.

Donna Frye, joined by attorneys Cory Briggs and Marco Gonzalez, speaks to reporters at a press conference Monday, July 15 about sexual harassment allegations against Mayor Bob Filner.

Frye was one of three Democratic former supporters of Filner who brought to light sexual harassment allegations against the former mayor. She said she's spoken to dozens of women over the last several months about the experiences they said they had with Filner. Most of the women were shocked and unsure of what to do after they were approached, while others reacted quickly, she said.

“There were many stories where women came to me and did exactly what they should have done," Frye said. "They reported it. They went to people and were told just to ignore it, just forget about it. Why didn’t they just say, 'That’s bad behavior, we’re going to talk to him and tell him it’s not acceptable'?"

Employment mediator Abby Silverman Weiss believes Filner’s conduct went unchecked also because he dealt with women from different workforces and could therefore isolate them.

“And that is the conduct of a serial sexual harasser," Silverman Weiss said. "In a single workplace, what that person may do is look for new employees who haven’t figured out networks if something offensive or uncomfortable happens.”

There were more than 7,500 cases of sexual harassment in the U.S. in 2012, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Silverman Weiss said the problem is likely more pervasive than the numbers suggest because many instances go unreported. Fear of job loss, promotion denials and a reluctance to be perceived as victims remain strong deterrents for younger women to bring forward sexual harassment complaints.

"What’s notable about the Filner case," Silverman Weiss said, "is most of the women who spoke up did so from a position of strength."

“They were really accomplished women who could afford to go public," she said. "They were really established in their careers or at the end of their careers. “

Four prominent women in San Diego speak publicly about the unwanted sexual advances they received from former Mayor Bob Filner. Clockwise from top left: Joyce Gattas, dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at SDSU, Patti Roscoe, a businesswoman in San Diego’s tourism and hospitality industry, Sharon Bernie–Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association and Veronica “Ronne” Froman, retired U.S. Navy read admiral.

Retired U.S. Navy Rear-Admiral Ronne Froman was one of four high profile women who spoke publicly about unwanted sexual advances from Filner.

“I thought there was safety in numbers," Froman said. "If any one person came out individually, there could have been major repercussions. Heck, there were repercussions with the group of us coming out, horrible things were said about us."

The criticism from certain corners echoed past negative portrayals of women who accuse powerful men of bad behavior. Congresswoman Susan Davis said the disparagement is partly political.

“We do tend to not believe often that someone who is doing a meritorious job in some areas could be having a problem," Davis said.

Filner served in Congress for two decades before he was elected San Diego mayor last November. And the allegations from some of his accusers dated back several years. Davis said Filner’s alleged conduct in D.C. may not have been caught because he was one of 435 congressional members and likely shielded by a protective staff. But once Filner became mayor, San Diegans clearly showed they had little tolerance for such misconduct.

“It is pretty remarkable,” said Davis.

Most observers said the Filner scandal has raised the public consciousness about sexual harassment. Since July, when the story first broke, there has been a 19.5 percent increase in requests to schedule harassment prevention trainings, according to the San Diego Employers Association.

Former Councilwoman Frye said the Filner case illustrated that even well-intentioned management can get it wrong. Almost immediately after Filner’s accusers stepped forward, city hall issued a directive barring women from working with him alone.

“I thought it was very ironic that in order to protect women from Bob Filner and protect them from possibly being harassed, that we will discriminate against them, which is also something that is not legal,” Frye said.

Froman said the crux of flawed edicts and harassment itself is that women are still treated as second-class citizens, almost universally. She pointed to pay gaps and glass ceilings on one end, and on the other, she said San Diegans need to look no further than El Cajon Boulevard, where young girls are sold for sex. Globally, child bride marriages in the Mideast and Asia, and female mutilation in Africa are still tolerated.

“We need to start treating our women as human beings, as people and as equals," Froman said.

Only honesty, continued dialogue and accountability, Froman said, will bring change.

“I think what so surprises me and so makes me angry is that people now think that just because Filner is gone, it’s no longer an issue," she said. "Well, it is an issue all across this country and all across this world."

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Avatar for user 'DonWood'

DonWood | September 24, 2013 at 5:06 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Ronne is right. Now that sexual harassment can no longer be used as a political hatchet for force Filner out of office, everybody, especially the local news media, considers it yesterday's news. Notice that many of the local politicians and power brokers who expressed shock at finding out about Filner's actions were not Lilly white.
Consider the case of the owner of one of the city's largest news outlets who is in the middle of a divorce. Rumors have his wife accusing him of using his position as an employer to get office workers and hotel maids into bed with him. Yet not one local news outlet has pursued this issue with anywhere near the energy they devoted to smearing Mayor Filner. Perhaps its because nobody brought the reporters that story on a plate like Filner's political opponents did. Wouldn't want to wake up the "watchdogs".

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Avatar for user 'CarlosDangler'

CarlosDangler | September 24, 2013 at 6:57 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

DonWood - Your back at using the blogs defending Filner?

Regarding your comment above, you are comparing some non-elected citizen in the midst of the divorce to an ELECTED City Official of the highest city office who admittedly harassed and clearly abused scores of women within his own political party? That is a ridiculous comparison and again you are wasting your time. Don Wood. Elected officials should be held to a higher standard. Defending a cad devoid of virtue is a futile endeavor. May I suggest that you spend your time and energies in more noble pursuits like helping out at a homeless shelter or adopting a pet from a shelter or taking an ethics course.

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Avatar for user 'DSpurgeon'

DSpurgeon | September 24, 2013 at 8:46 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

As a life long democrat I was shocked at way the Filner story unfolded. However I was more shocked by the way the "on air" Ladies of KPBS editorialized the reporting with excitement and glee. Just give us the facts please. All I could think of is "Papa Doug" has added KPBS to his empire.

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Avatar for user 'wadams92101'

wadams92101 | September 25, 2013 at 8:26 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Amazing, the one dimensional reporting continues unabated. All media focus is on these mostly wealthy white professional women who (allegedly) on single occasions several years ago fended off a romantic or sexual advance by Filner. They have been treated as though they suffered far beyond those that Filner helped. No scrutiny has been applied to their claims. No focus on how those who Filner championed will fare without him, e.g., the working poor, homeless, disadvantaged neighborhoods, etc. No focus on the propriety of a closed door deal for expedited and coerced resignation rather than a public process (e.g. recall election) or legal process (testing the veracity of the claims). The great shame in this is the shallow reporting leading to the absence of an informed and nuanced public debate. For more nuanced and in depth views, see the Facebook page Redress the Robbery of San Diego's Progressive Election.

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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | September 27, 2013 at 1:09 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

In my experience, there are just as many women who 'behave badly' using their sexuality to gain personal and professional power and privilege. They often are hired over men, simply because they are considered kinder, nurturing, pleasant, or sexy. Most women will play to their sexual power to gain advantage.

This is normal among human kind, instinctual, because of men's average superior strength and physical ability. Women always used marriage to gain wealth and power, single men rarely get that option.

Women have the advantage of staying home with kids, they get to shape each new generation, and avoid the real world of conflict and competition, while living comfortably in the home of the sweat of their spouses. It's not fair. We men should be allowed to be house-husbands, play all day with kids, and raise them in our image. And women get to bear children, so, given the nature of our work today, they have a fundamental conflict of interest between family and work. Why do they get the excuse of divided loyalty, while men are required to commit only to carrier?

The idea that only men can 'behave badly' is obviously sexist, and discriminatory. I'm all for an all female military, it's about time that women stepped up to take a bullet or kill a child for the security of this nation. The idea that only men should be drafted by selective-service is far outdated, since we kill with drones, all you need to do is push buttons.

I'm disappointed in how sexist Amita Sharma's reporting has become. I suppose it's because the reporters for KPBS are mostly women, and with that much estrogen in the room their reporting can be easily biased. Girls will be girls.

The truth is that women have been treated as 1st class citizens too long. Up on the pedestal, they haven't been expected to lift there weight at work or for the common defense. If we can just give men the same paid maternity leave as women, start hiring men to be nurturing teachers and nurses, and give men the real respect they deserve as pleasant, kind, caring individuals, then perhaps we will let as many men go to college in the country as women. So, that then we can finally get the same education and economic advantages as our female counterparts.

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