BY CLARA DEMARIA
By now, we are all familiar with the now-dismissed and discredited sexual harassment allegations that were levied against Rep. Carl Trujillo, weeks before an election he was solidly on track to win.
At the core of the dismissal was the accuser, Laura Bonar’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation or testify on the grounds that she was unwilling “to perjure herself.” Perjury, to be clear, means “to lie under oath.” Meaning that Ms. Bonar publicly admitted that she was unwilling to testify because she’d have to lie under oath to do so.
The implications of this are chilling, to say the least, particularly if you’re a woman or a supporter of the #metoo movement. This situation forces us to face the uncomfortable reality that we cannot simply “believe women,” because women sometimes lie, just as men do. Ms. Bonar’s false accusations have cost the #metoo movement desperately-needed credibility — credibility that women with actual harassment claims worked hard and paid a high price to gain.
And that’s not even the worst of the damage.
It used to be that we could reasonably “believe women,” because the social and professional risk of accusing a powerful man of harassment was too high for any woman to pay unless she was telling the truth. But thanks to the courage of the many women who have been willing to take that risk, this is no longer the case, at least in Progressive/Democratic circles, where a woman who comes forward is more likely to be praised and lauded as a hero rather than shamed and ridiculed.
But the dark side of that progress is that now there is less to deter someone from using the power of a false accusation — and our collective willingness to “believe women” — as a political weapon in order to throw the results of an election. This is what seems to have happened in the case of Laura Bonar’s claims against Rep. Carl Trujillo.
The damage in this case has been done. The people of District 46 were deprived of the opportunity to vote in a fair election, the legislature wasted over a quarter million dollars of taxpayer money on an unnecessary investigation, and a good man’s character was publicly maligned for political gain.
The question is, moving forward, what do we do to prevent it from happening again, now that unscrupulous political and elected officials have a shiny new weapon of mass destruction in their arsenal? Because if we continue to simply “believe women,” it’s not hard to see that any election can be manipulated with a single accusation, true or false.
First, we would do well to be much, much more discerning when it comes to believing sexual harassment claims made during an election cycle, and particularly when they’re used against a person who is known for standing up against corruption – because it’s the corrupt who are willing to use such a heinous weapon in their all-consuming quest to hold onto power.
Second, we would do even better to remember that there is good reason for the founding principle of our justice system, innocent until proven guilty. Lies do damage.
If all it takes to win an election is for someone to make an accusation, then only unscrupulous and unethical people will win elections. And we can already see at the highest levels of power where that gets us.
Santa Fe County