As a lobbyist in California, Pamela Lopez was no stranger to inappropriate behavior. “Sexual harassment was endemic to the political environment,” she said. When she was first starting out in her career, an official at a state agency she needed to speak to on behalf of her clients sent her an email saying he had a foot fetish and would only meet with her if she had lunch with him while wearing open-toed sandals. “Everybody kind of ignored it and looked the other way,” she said.
Then in 2016, she says, Democratic Assembly Member Matt Dababneh followed her into the bathroom at a co-ed bachelor party and masturbated in front of her, demanding that she touch him. She refused. She alleges that he ejaculated into the toilet, and as he left the bathroom, he told her not to tell anyone. “It was just absolutely terrifying,” she said.
At first, Lopez didn’t want anyone to know what had happened to her because she assumed she would be the one who would be punished professionally. “Somehow I will be blamed for this,” she recalled thinking. “I will be slut-shamed, people will not believe me.” That changed as #MeToo started to take off. “There is strength in numbers,” she said. She “wanted to make sure that the person who had hurt me did not potentially go on to hurt others.” She eventually named him in a 2017 Los Angeles Times article and filed a formal complaint with the state Assembly. (An Assembly committee eventually found that he “more likely than not” exposed himself to her). She held a press conference around the same time to announce the complaint.
Nine months later, Dababneh sued her for defamation. (Bryce Covert)