I have worked on the prevention of violence against women for over 40 years both locally and internationally. I have lectured on this topic at hundreds of universities across America. I’m currently on the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW) and I believe we have both difficult and exciting work ahead of us, as evidenced by our recently completed needs assessment. But, it seems our reputation has been tarnished in many people’s eyes due to our commission’s engagement in a contentious political battle within our city. How do we rebuild our community’s trust that CPVAW will be honest and transparent in our work going forward? According to our bylaws we are to make the prevention of violence against women the city’s highest priority.
The commission was forced into a vote on whether to re-agendize the censuring of two councilmen on Wed. Sept 25, 2019 and by the next day at 4pm we were told our chair would be appearing on KSBW news that night. We had originally been told the whole commission could offer input and edit a letter to then Mayor Watkins. Instead members from CPVAW initiated a media blitz using language insisting that our community ignore the findings of a lengthy and independent investigation, and instead believe CPVAW’s exaggerated accusations.
“Start by Believing” is the response of many sexual assault survivors who are not believed. Today, out of 1000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators walk free. Using that phrase along with “victim shaming and blaming” in the media should be done with utmost care, especially by CPVAW, as no city employee ever claimed they had been sexually assaulted.
When I asked the city’s HR director, she confirmed to me that no gender discrimination and no sexual harassment were substantiated. Yet, many community members wrongly believe that these councilmen did illegal, horrible things, harassing and bullying female employees and worse. The City Council clearly showed there was a need to mediate privately among any and all disgruntled employees. No one would have even heard of it had they just come forward to HR asking for mediation.
A city commission is, along with the city council, the community’s watchdogs. While we should make certain research and programs are done well, attempting to influence city voters by claiming false charges are really legitimate charges, especially given that the Rose Report had disproved the charges in a thorough, independent report that cost taxpayers 18 thousand dollars. The city was forced to instigate this extensive report after Mayor Watkin’s public accusations from the Dias. She could have chosen to go to HR privately with her concerns beforehand. CPVAW’s involvement boosted the recall effort at a time more petition signatures were needed to qualify before the deadline.
If this commission chooses to step into such frenzied battles in the future, let’s make certain each commissioner has a chance to review all the information, and hear from all sides before the full commission makes public statements to any news press or social media.
It is nothing short of tragic when rumor and workplace disputes are used to influence an election. This conflict is essentially about the rich versus the poor. It has been over a decade since our city has had enough council members willing to change policy to benefit the poor, over the moneyed real estate moguls who are behind the recall effort and are doing all they can to unseat these two councilmen.
My sincere hope is that CPVAW will in the future focus its work on preventing the ongoing epidemic of sexual and domestic violence in our city. We need a city government that works for all the people living in the City of Santa Cruz, not just the rich and powerful.
Ann J. Simonton
Director & Founder Media Watch
Member of CPVAW