Over the past months, I have been shocked and dismayed to hear the revelations by the courageous women who continue to tell their stories of sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of San Diego’s Mayor Bob Filner. When I saw the four brave women speak out in a joint interview, I made a decision that I could no longer remain silent.. It is high time for men to step up and join the courageous woman on the front lines, who have been victims and survivors of Bob Filner’s utter personal disregard, disrespect and degradation of women, as expressed through his unwanted sexual advances, which are at the lower end of a continuum of sexual abuse and assault.
I’m telling my own personal story, because I can relate to these women. Though I’m currently an associate professor of sociology at the University of San Diego, where I teach courses in criminology and social (in) justice, I experienced violent child abuse and torture in the household in which I was raised, until at 13 years old I finally got up the courage to run away from home. Though I was later placed in a group home, they kicked me out on the street because I refused to go home to the daily beatings and humiliation. Forced out onto the street with no way to survive, I was subjected to sexual exploitation, abuse, molestation, assault, rape and sexual harassment, including when I tried to get jobs to survive.
Some may ask why I bring up my story in the context of Bob Filner. Males are the overwhelming majority of those persons responsible for unwanted sexual advances, sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse and rape, with females the vast majority of victims. Yet boys and men have also been arguably among the most silent among victims and survivors. Sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape is an endemic problem not only for women, but also for males, including members of the US military, the Catholic Church and other religious institutions. I have met many of these brave male and female soldiers, as well as many other survivors, who have long lived with the shame and humiliation of the physical, sexual and emotional abuse they endured. My experience and that of the women who have endured Mayor Filner’s unwanted sexual advances and criminal misconduct, have great similarities. In both instances persons used their social power to fulfill their narcissistic sexual desires without regard to the human consequences of their actions on those they were harming.
Every day or week, more women have come forward: a former female marine who served in Iraq with traumatic brain injury who was homeless, helped by a nurse, only to have then-Congressman Filner offer his help to the nurse for her marine friend, but with the usual conditions attached; then, even more recently, women who were part of an organization helping women who had survived sexual assault and rape in the US military.
Unfortunately at this point, one is forced to conclude that Filner, who has admitted there is a monster inside him, is a clear and present danger to any women he comes into contact with. From the vantage point of the public safety and dignity and respect for women, not to mention the larger interests of the people of San Diego, the progressive agenda Filner once stood for and which he is today imperiling, immediate action must be taken.[i]
Filner himself has the opportunity to take a positive step first, before the various grand jury, other ongoing investigations and recall efforts take their course. If Mayor Filner truly wants to begin the process of recovery, recognize the enormous harm he has done, change and seek forgiveness from others and self-forgiveness, the only way forward is to admit that he needs help. However, two weeks in therapy is wholly inadequate. The long process of change and recovery for one guilty of criminal sexual abuse, harassment and misconduct, will only become possible by Mayor Filner’s resignation and his entering an inpatient sexual recovery program. Any other action merely dishonors and disgraces the names of the untold number of Mayor Filner’s victims and those like me, who share their stories, hopes and fears. I am not coming from the vantage point of saying I’m good and Bob Filner is bad. I’m saying this as a man, who like all men, is imperfect and must continuously work to overcome sexism and try and become a better person, as part of a larger process of social change so that all human beings — most especially women; our mothers, sisters and daughters — will finally receive the honor, respect and dignity that all human beings, with inalienable natural rights, deserve. To this struggle I thus add one more voice to join with my sisters on the front lines. It is time for all men and women of good conscience to join together to take a stand.
[i]See John Fanestil, "Filner's Flaws Shouldn't Dim Noble Vision," August 8, 2013 http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/Aug/08/filners-flaws-shouldnt-dim-noble-vision/. See also "Supporting A Politician Through Scandal," KPBS Mid-Day Edition with Patty Lane, Thursday, August 14, 2013