The Fall of Serial Sexual Harasser Bob Filner, Ex San Diego Mayor and Former Congressman

Sexual harassment can have serious consequences for its perpetrators as well as its victims. Although all too often these criminal and civil wrongs go unpunished, even the politically powerful can be held to account when women are not afraid to speak out. Take the recent case of disgraced former San Diego mayor Bob Filner. [1]

Filner served nearly a decade in congress before being elected mayor of San Diego in November, 2012. In July of 2013, three of his long-time supporters held a series of press conferences calling on him to resign his office because of multiple allegations of sexual harassment that had begun to come to light. These allegations included sexually suggestive comments, unwelcome kissing, and groping. That same month, Filner's former communications director filed a sex harassment suit against Filner.

Like many politicians caught up in a scandal, Filner tried to placate his critics by announcing he was taking time off to undergo therapy for his behavior and apologizing for having mistreated some of the women who worked for him. At the same time he refused to resign and insisted that a "fair and independent" investigation would clear him.

By August of 2013, however, a total of 19 different women had come forward publicly with their stories of how Filner had sexually harassed them. In addition to former staffers, some of these women were members of the U.S. armed services who had been raped while in the service. These U.S. service members had turned to Filner for help while he was still a congressman and the ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

The mounting allegations enraged many of his constituents and a recall effort started gathering signatures. On August 23, 2013, Filner resigned as mayor. In a resignation speech, he paid lip service to taking personal responsibility for his bad behavior with women, but also complained loudly that his political enemies and the media had created a lynch-mob atmosphere that forced him to resign.

Filner's legal problems, however, continued to mount. A criminal investigation led to charges being filed on behalf of three victims of Filner's assaults. In October 2013 Filner negotiated a plea agreement and plead guilty to one count of felony false imprisonment and two counts of misdemeanor battery involving the three women. As part of the felony plea he admitted putting one woman in headlock. In the misdemeanor cases he admitted kissing one of the women against her will and grabbing another woman's buttocks.

He was sentenced for these crimes on December 9, 2013. Although he avoided jail time, he will have to serve 90 days of home confinement followed by three years of probation. He will also have his city pension reduced. While on probation he will have to wear a GPS monitoring device and will be banned from seeking public office.

A second city employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Filner on December 11, 2013. The woman in this lawsuit had served as a manager in the Park and Recreation Department while Filner was mayor.

Many will complain that Filner's sentence is too lenient. Others will complain that the tax payers, and not Filner himself, will foot much of the bill for the civil suits that have been filed. Nonetheless, Filner's demise is a cautionary tale for others in positions of power who rely on that power to sexually abuse women. The rapidity of his fall shows the dramatic change in public attitudes about sexual harassment and the power that arises when many women publicly come forward to expose its existence. These gains are hard fought and significant.


[1] All facts in this article have been taken from the online versions of the L.A. Times articles Bob Filner sentenced in battery, false imprisonment cases; no jail, available at http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-filner-sentenced-20131209,0,7956340.story#axzz2naYK1IiD, Ex-mayor Bob Filner faces sexual harassment suit from 2nd city worker, available at http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-filner-lawsuit-20131211,0,6518062.story#ixzz2nb3hKAdG, and the Wikipedia page available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Filner.