San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is allegedly a serial sexual harasser. Filner’s list of women coming forward to claim that he requested them to come to work without panties on and allegations of sexual assault and groping is growing as the days pass. Currently, we are up to 10 women who have bravely stepped forward to tell their stories.
That Filner is an alleged serial sexual harasser though isn’t as interesting as his lawyer’s explanation for why Filner can’t treat his female colleagues with respect. You see, Filner claims that the City of San Diego failed to provide him with sexual harassment training and in a way implying that they are in part to blame for his shameful conduct. This was his lawyer’s response to the City of San Diego denying his request to have the city pay his legal fees to fight the allegations.
The attorney for San Diego’s embattled mayor says the city failed to provide Bob Filner state-required sexual harassment training and therefore should pay to defend him against a lawsuit by his former communications director, who alleges he asked her to work without wearing panties.
Filner’s lawyer Harvey Berger made the argument in a letter to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith one day before the City Council voted unanimously to deny Filner funds for his legal defense. Local media published parts of the letter Wednesday.
“This is not an excuse for any inappropriate behavior which may have occurred, but having conducted sexual harassment training many times over the years, I have learned that many — if not most — people do not know what is and what is not illegal sexual harassment under California law. There is a very, very good reason for mandatory sexual harassment training; if nothing else it makes people think about the subject, and how they interact with their fellow employees,” Berger wrote. (Emphasis added).
When I first read this explanation I laughed uncontrollably for several minutes. Then I realized that there is utility in this explanation because it illustrates that men don’t already “know better” and we do need to start earlier in teaching young men how to be better. Teaching young men and boys respect, consent, and healthy masculinity to prevent future acts of sexual violence is not a useless exercise and something feminists are suggesting because we think all men are rapists. In fact, the opposite is true.
Perhaps Filner was too far gone for any training to help him but I do think that this scandal is valuable both for showing us that there is so much power in women telling their stories of abuse and that if an abuser is saying, “hey, I didn’t know what I was doing was harassment,” maybe we should listen. Certainly, he might be lying and he should be held accountable for what he has done to the fullest extent, but if he doesn’t know maybe men do need to be taught, and if they can’t learn, punished for their actions.