The two words "me too" have become the slogan of a movement that offers hope, determination, and solidarity for the survivors of sexual harassment and assault.
California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia has acted at the forefront of the movement against sexual harassment and has become one of the most vocal legislators for the cause.
Staffer Daniel Fierro has stepped forward to claim that Garcia approached him while he was alone at a 2014 softball game. Visibly intoxicated, she cornered him, and began to stroke his back, eventually groping his crotch and buttocks.
"I remember thinking, 'I don't know what it was, but it probably wasn't that. I mean, how could that happen to me,'" he said regarding the inappropriate behavior. "But the power dynamic was there."
At the time of the incident, Fierro was 25 years old and worried that reporting the incident could come with long-term consequences that often accompany accusing a lawmaker of harassment.
But in recent months, watching as the #MeToo movement gained momentum, and seeing his harasser at the forefront of it all, Fierro said he knew it was time to step forward.
"People had an impression of Cristina," he said. "I knew that I had had an experience that didn't jibe with what she was saying, and that kind of hypocrisy was really hard to stomach."
In January, he explained the situation to his former boss, Assemblyman Ian Calderon, who brought the issue up to an investigative panel.
For a moment, Fierro's accusations seemed to be the only ones against the lawmaker, until another man stepped forward to accuse her of misconduct, highlighting another instance of harassment that is similar to Fierro's.
A California lobbyist has approached those investigating Garcia to say that she accosted him in May 2017 at a political fundraiser, making a sexually graphic proposal and attempting to grab his crotch before he stopped her. This man also claims that Garcia was clearly inebriated.
As one of over 140 women who signed a letter last fall to stand against the culture of sexual harassment that exists in the legislature and politics in general, Garcia has also spoken out against male colleagues accused of misconduct, often calling for them to resign, and boasts a Twitter feed riddled with information calling attention to sexual harassment.
THIS. This is why I literally preach about how pervasive the rape culture is in our society. Jokes aside, the perception becomes reality too often. #YesMeansYes. That is #consent. https://t.co/youTsw6lFP— Cristina Garcia (@AsmGarcia) February 7, 2018
Furthermore, when Time magazine unveiled "The Silence Breakers" as its "Person of the Year," Garcia's photo was front and center, placed alongside a multitude of women fighting for survivors.
I didn’t know I was part of the story. That I was pictured and added to a timeline of this reckoning. It’s an awkwardly humbling experience, but I am proud of this work and the company I am in. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of @TIME &read about the bravery.#MeToo #WeSaidEnough pic.twitter.com/P1bfCDPKCf— Cristina Garcia (@AsmGarcia) December 15, 2017
In addition to her strong voice backing women's rights issues, Garcia was also a part of a measure signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this week that protects staff members when they report sexual misconduct. The assemblywoman has even vowed to refuse working alongside of any lawmaker who has been accused of sexual harassment.
All this makes these allegations particularly troubling, and quite frankly, infuriating.
Garcia herself has told stories of her own harassment, claiming she has been groped and experienced misconduct along with thousands of other people in the workforce, and that alcohol does not excuse someone for their inappropriate actions.
"I would say that most of the public realizes that our job is based on relationships, and so we are expected to go out there and socialize," Garcia said. "I think our public also expects us to hold ourselves to a higher standard."
I guess she can't follow her own advice.
Garcia has been notified about the allegations and has released a statement via Twitter.
I have issued a statement in response to the allegations of misconduct here: https://t.co/esU3EMFj2o— Cristina Garcia (@AsmGarcia) February 9, 2018
"Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of. However, as I’ve said before, any claims about sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard of accountability," she said in the statement.
Garcia is taking an unpaid leave of absence and is cooperating with the investigation.
For someone to act as a wolf in sheep's clothing and position themselves at the forefront of a movement to help empower the survivors of sexual assault is truly disheartening.
Banner/thumbnail image credit: Wikimedia Commons, California State Assembly