Eldonna Fernandez and Gerri Tindley are among EIGHT female veterans and members of the National Women’s Veterans Association of America who have made accusations against Mayor Filner. Almost all women were victims of sexual assault in the military.
The women, like Fernandez, say the former chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee used his significant power and credentials to access military sexual assault survivors, who they say are less likely to complain.
Fernandez is a retired Air Force master sergeant who served 23 years, deployed to the Middle East after 9/11. “She said she was raped three times during her service. Like many victims of military sexual assault and rape, she suffered in silence, believing the system would never support her.”
A voice mail left for Ferndandez from 2012 as follows:
“Hi, it’s your newly favorite congressman, Bob Filner. You know, the one who fell in love with you at your last speech. “I don’t want to wait ’til you come back to have dinner with you.”
She described her initial encounter with Filner:
“He looks at my card. He looks at me. He says, ‘Fernandez. Are you married? Do you have a husband?’ Very quick, very direct. I said, ‘No, I’m divorced.’ ‘Well, you’re beautiful, and I can’t take my eyes off you, and I want to take you to dinner.’ I was really shocked and I was like, ‘Uh, OK,'” Fernandez said.
Tindley and Fernandez met Filner when he was running for Mayor and appeared at a National Women’s Veterans Association of America (NWVAA) event. Tindley says Filner asked her about her rape.
“He got as close as he could to me. His jacket was touching my jacket,” Tindley said. “I was bent down. He was bent down with me, rubbing like he cared, like he was consoling me.”
Tindley said she felt uncomfortable as Filner moved closer and closer. So close, she said, that she nearly fell off the couch trying to move away from him.
“I felt very weird,” she said.
When asked if she said anything, Tindley replied, “What am I gonna say? You’re a congressman. What am I gonna say to you? What am I gonna say to his man? Can he destroy my life, can he stop me from moving forward?”
The president of the NWVAA, Tara Jones, has seen to “seven or eight” women who had encounters with Filner, ranging from groping to unwanted requests for dates.
“He went to dinners, asked women out to dinners, grabbed breasts, buttocks. The full gamut. Everything that is complete violation of what we stand for,” Jones said. “He’s a sexual predator. And he used this organization for his own personal agenda.“
Jones said she invited Filner to her group “lavishing praise on his service to veterans while he was a congressman in Washington. She even stumped for him as he campaigned to be San Diego’s mayor.” The NWVAA was formed as a haven for victims of assault in the military.
Both Jones and Fernandez say that Filner targeted the former sexual assault victims because they wouldn’t speak out. Said Jones:
“He preyed upon people who were vulnerable, who he knew nine times out of 10 would not speak up, that didn’t have enough strength in them to speak up,” she said. “It’s not OK. You need to not be in office. You need to be out of office. You need to not have the ability to prey on others.”
“We’re all victims of military sexual assault. It appears to me that he was targeting the organization and hitting on the women of this organization because they were easy prey,” Fernandez said. “He’s part of an organization that’s against sexual assault and sexual violence against women and sexual harassment. And he’s doing the very thing that we are fighting to make stop in our service and in our country.”
Filner is currently seeking treatment for his behavior.