The sexual harassment allegations against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain have been on a low boil since Politico first reported that at least two women complained to senior staff at the National Restaurant Association that Cain had behaved inappropriately towards them in the workplace. But, with the accusers bound by confidentiality agreements, details were not forthcoming, and pundits and politicians on the right were free to run with “gender harassment denialism,” as Dahlia Lithwick put it—dismissing the claims, as they cast sexual harassment as a “mass delusion of hyper-sensitive ladies.” If anything, the accusations motivated Cain’s supporters—he raised $2 million in the week after the allegations became public—and boosted his poll numbers—Cain is now tied with Romney as the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Now, a fourth woman put her face, and her name, to the allegations. She’s Sharon Bialek, and she sought Cain’s professional advice after being let go in 1997 by the educational foundation of the National Restaurant Association. She and Cain had met at an industry conference a year prior; they had gotten along well, and once she was out of a job, Bialek sought to reconnect with Cain in DC for advice on seeking work. She thought they would meet in a bar in the lobby at the Capitol Hilton, but they ended up in a car together, and in the course of their discussion about employment options she might pursue, “He suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg, under my skirt and reached for my genitals.” He also, she said, “grabbed my head and brought it towards his crotch.” (As Jeffrey Toobin and and E.J. Graff quickly observed, this describes sexual assault, and could also be considered sexual harassment.) She told her boyfriend and another friend at the time, but did not press charges or notify the NRA. She didn’t make a complaint at the time, she said, because she wasn’t working at the National Restaurant Association anymore; she is still not pursuing a legal claim. She’s speaking out now to “give a face, and a voice” to the women who can’t or don’t want to.