Sen. Jack Latvala says he’s innocent, he didn’t molest or harass any of the six unidentified women who told Politico he did, and he’s got a lie detector test to prove it.

Actually, I’m not so sure a lie detector — or polygraph test — proves anything. It won’t help in a criminal trial, why would it be any more believable in the Florida Senate? 

But Latvala has something far more effective and substantial than a lie detector test.

He hired Steve Andrews, a street-fighter of a Tallahassee lawyer with a reputation for tearing the opposition apart.

You think that wasn’t a deliberate strategy? It’s playing the power card and piling on at the same time. It’s double-jeopardy intimidation. 

It’s a strategy designed to tell aggrieved women:  You’d better not … come forward and we’ll rip you to shreds. Adding a lawyer to dig through an accuser’s past, even if it’s only the threat of such a thing, is all it’s going to take.

I can’t think of anything more likely to chill a flow of truth in the Latvala case. 

Sexual harassment victims fear they will face disbelief, inaction, blame or societal and professional retaliation. That could be hostility from supervisors, a bad reference to future employers or the loss of job opportunities. Studies keep showing us their fears are grounded in reality. In one study of public-sector employees, two-thirds of workers who had complained about mistreatment described some form of retaliation in a follow-up survey, saying they were treated as troublemakers who nobody wanted to hire or work with anymore.

One woman did file a complaint against Latvala with the Senate Rules Committee, but that was way back on Wednesday. Nothing since.

Explains Politico, “The nature of the rules committee complaint is unclear because, for now, it’s secret. It could become public if Latvala agrees to waive confidentiality, if the complainant comes forward or if a special master examining the case makes a determination in the coming weeks that the case should be heard by the committee and then, if need be, by the full Senate.”

Steve Andrews

Andrews’ presence is designed to discourage any woman from starting down that road.

Tough enough to choose a career path in Tallahassee for young women often measured by their ability to work with people in power — most of whom are men.

The culture I’ve observed inside the Capitol itself epitomizes the “go along to get along” adage. You make the friends you need to make, all the while hoping you’re building respect, and you get through as best you can. 

Jack Latvala

In spite of the presence of more women in the Legislature than anytime in the last century, and the number of women lobbyists increasing, plus the sizable contingent of female aides and other staff members, the Capitol is still a boy’s club at its core. Men wield the power, they don’t even have to think about it, it’s ingrained. I don’t entirely understand it, I admit, but the building incubates an atmosphere that nurtures inappropriate and disrespectful conduct toward women.

What you never want to do for fear of sending your personal ship off course is report it. Or talk about it anywhere someone can put a name to a face. The risk is too great.

That’s why in the poll now on the Sunshine State News home page — “Do you think Jack Latvala will be found innocent?” — I voted yes.

It isn’t about whether he actually is innocent of sexual harassment — I mean, six accusers is a mighty large and unlikely political conspiracy, never mind the word of highly credible news source Politico reporting the women’s story. And Latvala is hereafter political poison, no matter what happens here. No, this is about who wants to be a hero, risk her future by coming forward — name, rank and serial number — and telling a story everybody knows lawyer Andrews will rip apart like he’s in a WWE Smackdown.

Will anyone be a hero? Will all these women get mad, get together, make a move to change the Capitol culture? Certainly I can understand if they don’t. I’m wishful, not so hopeful.

Reach Nancy Smith at [email protected] or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

 

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