Editor’s note: In 2016, Susan Rubio obtained a domestic violence restraining order against then-Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, who was her husband at the time.
As I attend political events in Los Angeles County, I hear politicians give speech after sanctimonious speech about the sexual harassment allegations in the state Capitol. Speakers repeatedly express their disgust, promise swift action and claim they would have never allowed something so horrible to happen if they had known.
Sadly, they did know.
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You see, my ex-husband was a member of the Assembly, and a court of law held him responsible for horrific acts of violence against me. A judge issued a restraining order directing that he stay away from me, this after he had pushed and choked me, and held a knife over my head.
Where were these people when the Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus loudly demanded the expulsion of my abuser? They were silent.
Calls for expulsion were nothing but a whisper. “Swift action” then meant allowing my abuser to finish his term in office. Those elected officials worked hand-in-hand with him to shape policy that affected women and children. Those elected officials entrusted him to hold the high privilege of serving the public in the great state of California.
Now sitting in a crowd of my peers, I felt exposed and victimized again. People who stood silent alongside my abuser just a year ago now were erasing allegations from their memory and their narrative as they proclaimed their support of victims.
So many people who now are outraged were mute when I asked them for help. I know something about this. In 2012, I rejected statements by other woman who had raised warnings about the man I would later marry. I defended him, and accused them of lying. I was wrong and I am sorry. It is my hope that as we evolve and improve as a society, we believe the victims.
Instead of refusing to stand with the few brave women in solidarity against abusers, I hope in the days, months and years to come everyone will take real action to end the horrendous exploitation of women.
We cannot protect women who have already suffered the consequences of inaction, but we can make sure their voices, their bravery and their pain are no longer silenced. We can ensure that allegations are taken seriously and victimizing questions are abolished from our lexicon.
We can rise up together and push back when President Donald Trump defends Judge Roy Moore. We can say loud and clear that we believe women who recall how Moore victimized them when they were girls, and that we believe Trump’s victims, too.
This can’t just be about a moment in time or a popular conversation. It has to transcend party affiliation, demographics, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and industry. It shouldn’t matter if it’s Hollywood, Sacramento, the U.S. Capitol or an immigrant woman cleaning in a high-rise building in the middle of the night. Assault is assault.
We’ve been conditioned to question the credibility of the victim. We demand they provide proof, even though power and control often lies in the hands of the perpetrator. We need to change the mindset that puts the burden on the victim. We also need to understand that victims are not in charge. Finally, we need to address the fact that victims come in all shapes, colors, sexes and sizes.
I had an image of what a battered victim would look like, but somewhere along the way the image transformed into my reflection. Victims are everywhere. Look and you will find us. We can no longer be blind to what happens in our society. I praise the women who have come forward. They have taken a stand for themselves, and for all the women who remain in the shadows.
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Editor’s note: This op-ed has been updated.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla says "we have more work to do" to change the culture that allows sexual harassment and abuse. He was interviewed Tuesday night at the California Hall of Fame ceremonies.
Baldwin Park City Councilwoman Susan Rubio is an an elementary school teacher and a Democratic candidate for California Senate District 22, firstname.lastname@example.org.