Former Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero maintains that he has fundamentally changed since he decided to leave office at the end of his third term in 2017. He’s running for mayor this year not as a perfect man, but as a “better man” — now with grandchildren and a much cooler temper.
And for a brief moment after he was accused last month by two women of sexual harassment, Bernero might have had Lansing fooled. Though he didn’t recall either incident, he seemed deeply apologetic about the potential that he could have done something wrong. He even went as far as to label the behavior as “unacceptable and wrong.” His words showed promise.
Three days later during an interview with Michael Patrick Shiels, the “better man” Bernero was seemingly back to the same old Virg, denying any wrongdoing whatsoever. Color us shocked.
Both women told their stories to City Pulse under the condition they be allowed to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation — possibly from Bernero or his high-powered political allies. And Bernero’s conduct over the last several weeks has made it clear why that was necessary. Shiels asked Bernero during the interview if he knew the identity of one of the women. Our reporters later asked him whether he believed the women. Bernero replied: “Believe who?”
The former mayor’s flat denial of two credible allegations of sexual harassment is more than troubling. But playing a game of guess-the-accuser on the radio is simply beyond the pale. Bernero may have been better off staying forgetful and keeping his mouth closed. As history has shown, however, that may represent a truly impossible feat for Lansing’s “Angry Mayor.”
People can make up stories. But let’s also not ignore the reality that false accusations of this nature are incredibly rare. Data from the Office on Violence Against Women shows that only up to 8% of sexual assault allegations turn out to be false. In other words, men are more likely be raped in America than to have falsified allegations of sexual harassment brought against them.
The takeaway: We need to believe survivors — particularly when they come with witnesses, as do these victims. And for Bernero, it’s past time to be accountable.
Scrutiny of women who are sexually victimized is far from unfamiliar. Instead, we need to acknowledge the truth behind their experiences. Bernero — and his would-be voters — need to focus on validating their allegations rather brushing them off as politically motivated bad actors.
Don’t ask why these women waited until now to tell their stories. Ask what sorts of factors and power dynamics could have prevented them from blowing the whistle on a mayor or senator.
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