SACRAMENTO, Calif. - U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's daughter Christine has taken the spotlight in the sexual harassment scandal enveloping California's Legislature with her claim there are rapists in the state capitol and lawmakers are protecting them.
The younger Pelosi, chair of the California Democratic Party's women's caucus, produced gasps Tuesday when she made the statement at a legislative committee hearing on state sexual harassment policies.
While many testified, sometimes angrily, about a dysfunctional system they say protects the powerful and encourages silence from victims, Christine Pelosi's comments stood apart for their bare-knuckle boldness. They struck a nerve, with some taking to social media to express incredulity or to call on Pelosi to provide more information.
"As someone who works in the Capitol, I had NEVER heard that there are rapists in the building," Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher wrote on Twitter.
Christine Pelosi fired back: "We have. That you don't know illustrates the problem: women do not trust the legislature to protect them."
Sacramento Bee news columnist Marcos Breton urged her to "Name one rapist at the California state capitol," to which Christine Pelosi replied "I will not be bullied into breaking their confidence."
While Pelosi was defending her comments her mother was ratcheting up pressure on U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat accused of sexually harassing at least two staffers, one of whom was paid $27,000 in 2015 to settle a claim, according to BuzzFeed News. Nancy Pelosi last weekend cautioned against a rush to judgment with Conyers and seemed to question the veracity of his accusers, drawing criticism from some within her party.
On Thursday she called on Conyers to resign and said the harassment allegations were "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, which came six weeks after the sexual harassment issue took centre stage in Sacramento when more than 140 women who work at the Capitol posted a letter saying harassment was "pervasive" there.
On Monday, amid allegations from a half-dozen women, Democratic Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra became the first California legislator to resign since the scandal broke.
Women in Sacramento have spoken out about a range of inappropriate behaviours, including unwanted touching, but none have publicly alleged rape. However, Samantha Corbin, a Sacramento lobbyist and organizer of the "We Said Enough" 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, warned Christine Pelosi's harsh language 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."