SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — While U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi faced criticism for not being more strident in her initial response to sexual harassment allegations, back in her home state of California her daughter began throwing verbal hand grenades, alleging state lawmakers are protecting rapists at the Capitol.
At a hearing Tuesday on the California Legislature's sexual harassment policies, Christine Pelosi produced gasps when she said "everybody here knows we have rapists in this building" as well as "enablers." While many others testified, sometimes angrily, about a dysfunctional system they say protects the powerful and encourages silence from victims, Christine Pelosi's comments stood apart with their bare-knuckle boldness.
On Wednesday, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, had a tense exchange with Christine Pelosi on Twitter.
"As someone who works in the Capitol, I had NEVER heard that there are rapists in the building," Gonzalez Fletcher wrote.
Christine Pelosi fired back: "We have. That you don't know illustrates the problem: women do not trust the legislature to protect them."
The 51-year-old Christine Pelosi, chairwoman of the California Democratic Party's women's caucus, did not provide any specific rape complaints during her comments.
California's awakening on sexual harassment in the Capitol comes amid a national movement that's brought the downfall of a number of prominent men in media, politics and entertainment facing accusations of misconduct, starting with producer Harvey Weinstein.
Women in Sacramento have spoken out about a range of inappropriate behaviors, including unwanted touching. No one has publicly alleged rape but Samantha Corbin, a lobbyist and organizer of the campaign, said her group has heard that allegation from "more than one woman" against men "at every level of the Capitol community."
Those women haven't come forward because they are scared of the repercussions, she said.
"It's easy to disregard the allegations you don't want to believe," Corbin said.
Kim Nalder, director of the Project for an Informed Electorate at California State University, Sacramento, said Pelosi's comments could work against the group's efforts.
"Her comments were shocking and bracing," Nalder said "Given the fact that we don't have any solid allegations going that far yet, it does present the possibility of undermining the veracity of legitimate claims of sexual harassment that we do know have gone on."
Six weeks ago, nearly 150 women who work in California's Capitol began the "We Said Enough" campaign to draw attention to what they say is a "pervasive" culture of sexual harassment in Sacramento.
On Tuesday, Democratic Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra became the first legislator to resign amid allegations from a half-dozen women.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Nancy Pelosi sought to recover after being roundly panned for her initial reaction to allegations of harassment against Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, who at 88 is the oldest member of Congress. Buzzfeed News reported that two years ago Conyers settled for $27,000 a complaint from a woman staff member who alleged she was fired after rejecting his sexual advances. A second former staff member has also alleged improper conduct.
Appearing Sunday on "Meet the Press," Pelosi seemed to question the veracity of Conyers' accusers.
"I don't know who they are. Do you?" Pelosi responded when asked if she believed them, after calling Conyers "an icon" who was entitled to due process.
By Thursday, after days of intense criticism, she formally called for Conyers to resign, calling the allegations him "serious, disappointing, and very credible."
Christine Pelosi did not respond to a request for comment about her mother's initial remarks or to elaborate on her "rapists" comment.