Florida’s chief legal officer, Attorney General Pam Bondi, said Tuesday that women who have anonymously accused a powerful state senator of sexual harassment “have to come forward” and tell their stories to the Senate’s independent investigators.
Addressing reporters' questions after a Cabinet meeting, Bondi said: “As a career prosecutor, I would say you have to come forward, because someone has the right to face their accuser. It can’t be done under the condition of anonymity. So you have to come forward.”
Six women have accused Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and a candidate for governor, of groping or making offensive verbal remarks to them. The allegations by the six women, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, were first reported by Politico Florida last Friday.
Latvala has denied the allegations and called the story “totally fabricated.”
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, immediately ordered an investigation and is in the process of hiring an independent law firm to investigate the Latvala allegations. Negron also temporarily relieved Latvala of his duties as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.
“As a woman, I’d say, ‘Please come forward,’” Bondi said. She added that the #MeToo movement on social media “says a whole lot about where we’re going and where we need to go further as a culture.”
“People say, ‘Well, why don’t women come forward?’ Because they’re intimidated. They’re scared. Don’t be scared,” Bondi told reporters at the Capitol. “If Rose McGowan can start this in Hollywood with someone as powerful as Harvey Weinstein, it can go throughout our country.”
Bondi’s office has no official role in the Latvala investigation.
“People are innocent till proven guilty,” Bondi said. “You have the right to face your accuser in any instance throughout this country ... I would encourage any victim to come forward. It’s one at a time, and that’s how you change things.”
Gov. Rick Scott, also asked about the allegations Tuesday, called them “absolutely disgusting” and said: “Behavior like that cannot be tolerated. The citizens of our state deserve much better than what we’ve read about in the papers.”