Cristina Garcia: The woman fighting against sexual harassment, only to be accused of it herself

Cristina Garcia: The woman fighting against sexual harassment, only to be accused of it herself

Cristina Garcia is accused of sexual misconduct (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, February 9, 2018

She has led the #MeToo movement and been in the vanguard of the campaign against sexual harassment for years. Now, she stands accused of sexual misconduct herself - a development which is sure to horrify her legions of fans and delight her detractors in equal measure.

Cristina Garcia, chair of the legislative women's caucus in California, has become one of the most powerful figures in the sunshine state. The former maths teacher claims to have three guiding priorities: women's issues, good government and socio-environmental justice. Yet the first of these aims has had a disproprtionate influence on her political life, and secured her a place among the 'Silence Breakers' honoured by Time Magazine's most recent 'Person of the Year' award.

She headed up the campaign to change the definition of rape so it went beyond engaging in the act due to a threat or physical force in 2016, and also introduced a bill which removed sales tax on women's health products. She is said to have been pivotal in making sure the legislative women's caucus is involved in policy and budget decisions, as well as being a mentor for would-be female politicians, encouraging them to take part in public office.

The crusade has reached a crescendo in recent months, homing in on sexual harassment. Garcia was one of more than 140 women who signed a letter decrying a 'pervasive' culture of sexual harassment in the California legislature, and in politics generally. And she has regularly spoken out in favour of the #MeToo movement, tweeting the viral hashtag and highlighting high-profile cases of bad behaviour.

Earlier this week, she sent a tweet asking "what is consent?" accompanied by a picture of Aziz Ansari, the Hollywood actor accused of sexual harassment last month (he denies the charges). She's also spoken about "about how pervasive the rape culture is in our society" and recently shared an article decrying "crotch-watching" by high-profile figures in California.

Last October she spoke out against former California Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, who resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. Garcia said she refused to work with Bocanegra, "and anyone who takes part in harassment or assault."

Yet now she faces allegations from two men, who claim Garcia subjected them to the very harassment and grab-assing that she has decried in others.

Former California legislature staffer Daniel Fierro claims Garcia cornered him after the Annual assembly softball game in 2014. He alleges that Garcia was drunk, and that she stroked his back and buttocks before trying to grab his crotch. Fierro did not say anything at the time, but says he was moved to speak in January, after seeing that Garcia herself had been honoured for 'speaking out' by the most iconic magazine in America. Another man, interviewed by the website Politico, says Garcia propositioned him at a fundraiser, and tried to grab his crotch.

Now Garcia is being investigated by the California Assembly Rules Committee. She denies any wrongdoing, although she's said that every sexual assault accusation must be taken seriously and that she'll participate in the investigation fully. Whilst she remembers going to the softball game, she says, she has "zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behaviour and such behaviour is inconsistent with my values." She's still sending messages about sexual harassment with the same furious frequency as ever, determined to keep speaking out.

Yet, for Garcia and the rest of the #MeToo movement, it's a most unwelcome distraction. America's anti-feminists will be rubbing their hands from Syracuse to Sacramento. Hers will become the face of a thousand memes and gifs, buried under an avalanche of conservative schadenfreude. 

Few other women have done more for the feminist movement than Cristina Garcia over the past year. Few others have spoken so powerfully, so movingly, and so often. Yet, given the consequences of this case for the Me Too movement, her testimony before the inquiry into her alleged groping could be the most important speech of her career.