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Did San Diego mayor target victims of military sexual assault?

At least 8 female veterans have made claims against the mayor

CNN News Wire | 8/7/2013, 1:41 p.m.
The man on the voicemail is flirty and clearly asking for a date. But it’s the name on the message ...
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

Filner, who was running for mayor of San Diego at the time, was also scheduled to speak. In the green room, he asked Tindley about her rape.

“He got as close as he could to me. His jacket was touching my jacket,” Tindley said. “I was bent down. He was bent down with me, rubbing like he cared, like he was consoling me.”

Tindley said she felt uncomfortable as Filner moved closer and closer. So close, she said, that she nearly fell off the couch trying to move away from him.

“I felt very weird,” she said.

When asked if she said anything, Tindley replied, “What am I gonna say? You’re a congressman. What am I gonna say to you? What am I gonna say to his man? Can he destroy my life, can he stop me from moving forward?”

A series of complaints

Three weeks ago, as women began to step forward to reveal instances of sexual harassment, the veterans at the NWVAA began to compare notes.

Tara Jones, the president of the group, said she’s spoken to seven to eight women who had varying encounters with Filner at the women’s veteran events, from groping to unwanted requests for dates.

“He went to dinners, asked women out to dinners, grabbed breasts, buttocks. The full gamut. Everything that is complete violation of what we stand for,” Jones said. “He’s a sexual predator. And he used this organization for his own personal agenda.”

Jones, who says she was raped while she was in the Navy, formed the NWVAA as a safe haven for military sexual assault victims. She invited Filner into her group, lavishing praise on his service to veterans while he was a congressman in Washington. She even stumped for him as he campaigned to be San Diego’s mayor.

Jones remembers Filner’s speeches, where he has often called for a zero tolerance of sexual abuse in the armed forces. She said she feels not only outrage but also a deep and familiar sense of being victimized by a man of power.

“He preyed upon people who were vulnerable, who he knew nine times out of 10 would not speak up, that didn’t have enough strength in them to speak up,” she said. “It’s not OK. You need to not be in office. You need to be out of office. You need to not have the ability to prey on others.”

That’s a sentiment that Fernandez shares.

“We’re all victims of military sexual assault. It appears to me that he was targeting the organization and hitting on the women of this organization because they were easy prey,” Fernandez said. “He’s part of an organization that’s against sexual assault and sexual violence against women and sexual harassment. And he’s doing the very thing that we are fighting to make stop in our service and in our country.”

Tindley questioned why Filner was in public office.

“How can you be a representative, take an oath, and be a predator? Do you know how damaging that is for women who are truly victims of military sexual trauma or rape in general? Who can we trust to help us?” she asked.

Filner checked into a two-week therapy program Monday to help him deal with his behavior. Calls to his spokeswoman were unreturned.

Lee Burdick, Filner’s chief of staff, dodged CNN’s questions and would not answer to the latest allegations from the female veterans.

Filner’s attorney Harvey Berger had no comment.

Kyung Lah | CNN