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Nancy Smith

The Jack Latvala Effect: Women of the Senate, Your Silence ISN'T Golden

December 1, 2017 - 6:00am
Jack Latvala
Jack Latvala

Where is everybody -- especially the women of the Senate? 

I understand the Bro Code is more powerful than the Honor Code in Tallahassee, but when Sen. Jack Latvala and his lawyer go clawing after a woman with guts enough to blow a whistle on his unwanted sexual advances, where's the outrage from his accuser's female support team?

I guess they weren't impressed that six women ratted out his shenanigans to Politico.

Isn't Latvala, whose lawyer just shared with the Times/Herald 208 text messages between himself and his one identified accuser, Rachel Perrin Rogers, piling on the abuse? Intimidating other women weighing the price of their courage and sacrifice to come forward? 

Come on, team. Are Latvala's bully tactics OK with you?  

I Beg to Differ

Sens. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, and Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, both sexual assault survivors, did issue a joint statement a month ago urging victims of sexual harassment who work in the Florida Legislature to speak out and file complaints. But Latvala's name never came up then.

Latvala, removed as Appropriations chairman, nevertheless first tried to put the squeeze on Rules Chair Benacquisto, asking that she be recused from his sexual harassment investigation.

It's obvious why Benacquisto needs to stay silent on the Clearwater Republican now. But where's the leadership of the rest of the Senate women?

Why isn't Book calling for Jack Latvala's head? Come on, Sens. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Dana Young, R-Tampa; Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange; and Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne.

How about you, Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples; Annette Taddeo, D-Miami; Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville; and Linda Stewart, D-Orlando?

Let's hear from Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid; Daphne Campbell, D-North Miami Beach; and Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

Even Nancy Pelosi gets it. It took the top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives awhile to come out of her partisan fog, but even Pelosi did the right thing in the end. She told reporters Wednesday she wanted Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, to step down because the sexual harassment allegations against him were "serious, credible and very disappointing." And she believed them.

And, by the way, it took NBC News less than two hours of investigation to fire Matt Lauer. 

Florida women need their state senators to act like leaders, too. If none of the other women who told their Latvala stories to Politico come forward, don't anybody be surprised.

In their Oct. 30 statement, Book and Benacquisto vowed to stand with victims: “As long as we are here, you will be heard, and we will do all that we can to help. We are your allies because, sadly, we can both say #MeToo.”

So, be their allies. 

If Nancy Pelosi can refuse to wait for the rest of Congress to play politics and wuss-out over losing a vote, then why can't Florida senators take a stand against Latvala now?

Somebody in the Senate, at least mention Latvala's name out loud, in the same breath you talk about sexual harassment allegations.

And by the way, why the silence from the half-dozen-or-so women's organizations that run up to Tallahassee to sound off on all kinds of social issues -- abortion, school prayer, for example? Disgusting behavior toward female employees doesn't bother them?

In an interview Wednesday, Latvala told the Times/Herald, "Women should not be sexually harassed in the workplace. But guys in important positions also shouldn't be sitting ducks for anonymous accusations or people coming forward with an ax to grind."

And Latvala's making sure the anonymous stay anonymous. Really. I ask you: 208 text messages spread over social media, that show nothing more than a legislative aide trying to forge an effective relationship with a Senate leader for the good of her boss's objectives (her boss, by the way, being Sen. Wilton Simpson)? Read the Times/Herald story and some of the texts.

Rogers' attorney Tiffany Cruz told the Times/Herald, "I didn't see any text messages that say you have permission to grab my body. These messages show she was doing her job -- which was to garner support for her boss, Sen. Simpson."

I don't think Latvala's defense strategy -- going for the throat of aggrieved accusers -- could work anywhere else but a boy's town like Tallahassee.  

The bottom line is, women employees perceive sexual advances as something you have to endure until you can segue to another department, or job, when you will need that very man’s reference over the course of a long career. 

Before HR became a tool of protection, some women felt they had no other option. Consider, too, the power of the person making those unwanted advances -- in this case the chairman of Senate Appropriations. Most of the time, women grit their teeth and move forward.

In the rest of life, someone approaches you and if you want to reject them, you can avoid each other. At work you return daily, the person you rejected has power over you and your career. They may actually advocate for you. There’s the hope that the behavior will not repeat. There may be no other work opportunity readily available. There’s the fear, especially when the person is powerful within the organization, of retaliation, loss of job, not being believed. 

Sexual harassment usually happens without eye witnesses. Often the women are only motivated to speak up when all their bridges are burned, when they know their silence is no longer needed because they will never need that powerful person's endorsement in the future.

Women of the Senate, it has to be you. You have the power to move the needle, change the culture for all women. You're going to have to call out to those anonymous accusers in a voice that rises above the bully tactics of the senator trying to shame them into silence. With every move Latvala is showing his disrespect for women.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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