In April 2016, HBO aired a movie the network had produced called “Confirmation.” The film recounted the dramatic Senate testimony of Anita Hill, the University of Oklahoma law professor who in 1991 publicly accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
Hill offered claims so stunning and provocative about, for example, Thomas’ proclivity for pornography and utterings of sexual innuendo in the workplace that they defied belief — and which Thomas vehemently denied, denouncing them as a “high-tech lynching” of a conservative black man.
Upon the release of “Confirmation” last year, Fortune magazine tried to put the issue in context, with an article headlined: “25 Years After Anita Hill, Have We Made Progress On Sexual Harassment?”
After the avalanche of sexual harassment claims over the past month, unleashed by the accusations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the answer, safe to say, is a resounding no — one that echoes across the fruited plain from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.
In recent days it seems state lawmakers have proven especially ripe for such claims. Hundreds of women who work for or around the legislatures in Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Washington state, Oregon and Kentucky have described sexually charged and hostile-workplace climates where harassment — even outright misogyny — is both pervasive and unrelenting.
Tallahassee got caught up in this as well.
Last week Politico issued a blockbuster report that six women came forward to accuse state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican running for governor, of sexual harassment. The women, who were Capitol employees or lobbyists, told Politico that Latvala inappropriately touched their private parts, commented about their bodies and made other sexually suggestive moves — none of which was welcomed or appreciated.
The women told Politico Latvala’s behavior was part of a “common culture” in Tallahassee — although no one had filed any reports of sexual harassment or misconduct going back to 1994.
In Latvala’s case, the women said they took no action because they feared retaliation from a powerful lawmaker. Latvala is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee — although he has been temporarily removed from that post until a Senate investigation is complete.
Latvala, who grew up in Bartow and graduated from Bartow High School in 1969, has vigorously denied the claims. He has suggested the allegations are part of a smear plot to undermine his candidacy for governor, or to reap some other political hay.
After initially tripping by seeking to have the matter internally investigated by the Senate’s general counsel, who has a long-standing professional relationship with Latvala, Senate President Joe Negron has rebounded by seeking to hire an outside law firm to probe the charges. He also has lawmakers busy rewriting the harassment-reporting procedures.
All of that is appropriate. Yet the problem is that the victims, for now, remain in the shadows. This must change.
We can understand why they desire anonymity. Not only must they fear a reprisal from Latvala if he survives the investigation, their reputations and standing in the Capitol would be maligned and undercut with other lawmakers if their accusations aren’t supported.
Still, they should come forward, unpleasant though it may be. Anita Hill did so. A number of women did likewise last year to accuse then-presidential candidate Donald Trump of sexual harassment. And actresses Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd and others have publicly admitted being victimized by Weinstein, whose career is now in tatters.
On Tuesday, in response to reporters’ questions, Attorney General Pam Bondi also urged Latvala’s accusers to go public. As the Tampa Bay Times reported, Bondi acknowledged that the women are likely “scared” and “intimidated,” but she cited McGowan as an example of how the dam can break when one person overcomes that reluctance.
Just as important, though, Bondi noted, “Someone has the right to face their accuser.” “People are innocent till proven guilty,” she added. “You have the right to face your accuser in any instance throughout this country.”
Latvala might be the complete cad these women claim he is, and if so, he deserves whatever smackdown fate deals him. On the other hand, these women have just fired salvos that, if accepted as gospel, will ruin his professional reputation and his personal life. Because of the allegations, Latvala has already skipped events and watched donors back away, and the media mill is now cranking up the idea of whether he will resign.
Bondi is correct: the public needs more than “just trust us” before deciding how Latvala's future should play out.