Politics

Pennsylvania State Legislator Is Forced to Work With Her Alleged Abuser, Another GOP Legislator

The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg.
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg.

For the past few years, Pennsylvania state representative Tarah Toohil has been forced to work alongside the man she says physically abused her. Toohil dated fellow Republican legislator Nick Miccarelli several years ago; she ended the relationship in 2012. According to reporting from the New York Times, because Miccarelli frequently carried a concealed firearm with him to work, Toohil was too scared to go public with allegations that he’d kicked her, pinned her to a wall in the Capitol building by her neck, and threatened her life while holding a gun.

In February, emboldened in part by the #MeToo movement, Toohil decided to file a formal complaint against Miccarelli with House leadership. In March, she obtained a legal order of protection against him. Her account of his behavior was bolstered by accusations from another of Miccarelli’s former girlfriends, a political consultant who says he raped her when she ended their relationship in 2014.

Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania legislature asked Miccarelli to resign in March, after a House investigation deemed the two women’s stories credible. He refused. Toohil occupies a desk just 10 seats away from Miccarelli’s in the statehouse where, every day, she is shadowed by a security guard.

To comply with the restraining order, Miccarelli, who says the allegations are untrue, has given up his guns. With a bodyguard at her side, he is unlikely to harm Toohil in the workplace. But his insistence on sticking out the rest of his term—he has said he won’t seek re-election this November—seems as much a way to flaunt his power in the faces of his accusers as it is a financial decision. (When he leaves the House at the end of his term, he will have served for 10 years, making him eligible for a pension and a lifetime of health care benefits for his entire family.) Miccarelli’s spokesperson has called Toohil and her fellow accuser “vengeful,” saying they are “two vindictive women” who “seem hellbent on destroying the guy’s entire life.” Even though a judge saw fit to grant Toohil a yearslong order of protection and Miccarelli’s own party was convinced enough by the House investigation to call for his resignation, he doesn’t have to go anywhere.

The case provides such an on-the-nose distillation of the ways abusers evade accountability, it reads like a farce. There are women who share their workplaces with their alleged abusers, and there are politicians who refuse to step down in the face of credible accusations of physical and sexual violence. But rarely are the former state legislators, and rarely are the latter matched in status by their alleged victims. The collision of these two too-common, usually mutually exclusive narratives in Pennsylvania serves as a reminder of how ill-equipped our systems of justice are when it comes to gender-based violence, especially when the perpetrators are in positions of power.

In another workplace, if one employee was granted a restraining order against another employee who had two sets of credible complaints lodged against him, a smart employer would deem the alleged perpetrator too risky to employ. Pennsylvania’s Republican leaders have made no such calculation. After Miccarelli declined to abide his fellow Republicans’ request that he vacate the Capitol, they took no further actions. The Pennsylvania Constitution endows each branch of the state legislature—both of which are currently controlled by the GOP—with the power to expel its own members and “protect its members from violence.” Instead of taking steps to give Miccarelli the boot or censure him, as lawmakers have recently done to their own in Colorado, California, Arizona, and the U.S. Senate in light of harassment and abuse allegations, Republicans have allowed him to ride out his term. Meanwhile, another fellow party member has worked for months with the daily degradation of a constant security detail, and she will serve many more under those conditions if Miccarelli makes good on his promise to stay. The Pennsylvania GOP was given the choice to protect and stand in quiet solidarity with one of its own, and it chose the alleged perpetrator of rape and domestic abuse over the alleged victim.

The continued employment of Miccarelli, the Republican Party’s contorted defense of Senate candidate and accused child molester Roy Moore, and the GOP’s decision to ignore the more than 20 women who’ve accused President Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment are pointed signals to men in power and the women they abuse. Democrats in the Senate forced out former Sen. Al Franken for allegedly groping women and forcing kisses on them; the president, who has boasted of doing similar and worse, has gotten to stay. A Republican legislator watching this genre of political theater might reasonably presume that his career could survive a few bouts of physical or sexual abuse. A woman considering a career in politics would come away with a very different lesson. If a woman who’s been elected into public office can’t get her alleged abuser fired, even with restraining order in hand, everyone else’s chances look even bleaker by comparison.