Staffer abuse vic­tim speaks out

For­mer aide to Esty cites ‘huge prob­lem’ in Congress

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kait­lyn Kras­selt

When Anna Kain told her story — the one about how she was abused and threat­ened as a staffer in U.S. Rep. El­iz­a­beth Esty’s of­fice — she knew there might be back­lash.

She knew there might be ques­tions, calls for Esty’s res­ig­na­tion and a me­dia firestorm.

But Kain said she did not tell her story for re­venge or to fi­nally get the help she never re­ceived. She did not tell her story to end the po­lit­i­cal ca­reer of a promis­ing con­gress­woman and the man who abused her.

And she did not tell her story for the apolo­gies.

Kain, 29, saw the move­ment she had silently helped start come to a screech­ing halt — and knew she could not stay quiet.

“The ul­ti­mate rea­son I came for­ward is be­cause there’s a huge prob­lem on Capi­tol Hill,” Kain said in an in­ter­view with Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia. “There was all of this mo­men­tum, but then it stalled and not much was ac­tu­ally done. It seemed to me that the only thing that re­ally mo­ti­vates

law­mak­ers and keeps the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion go­ing is sto­ries like mine be­ing shared.”

Kain is a found­ing mem­ber of Congress Too, a group of for­mer Capi­tol Hill staffers push­ing for sweep­ing re­forms of the way sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse is han­dled in leg­isla­tive of­fices. Founded in Novem­ber, on the heels of the Me Too move­ment in Hol­ly­wood and long be­fore Kain ever went pub­lic with her story, the group has penned let­ters to both the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and, last week, the Se­nate, urg­ing them to pass leg­is­la­tion that would do just that.

The Novem­ber let­ter gar­nered more than 1,500 sig­na­tures of sup­port from for­mer Capi­tol Hill staffers, and ul­ti­mately the leg­is­la­tion passed in the House. But that was two months ago, and it’s been sit­ting in the Se­nate ever since.

So Kain came for­ward. She told the story of how she was abused for months when Esty’s for­mer Chief of Staff Tony Baker be­came her boss, about ul­ti­mately be­ing punched and threat­ened with death by Baker, and about how too lit­tle was done far too late.

“This isn’t just a statis­tic about

the preva­lence of ha­rass­ment in con­gres­sional of­fices,” Kain said. “It was my way of say­ing that this not only re­ally hap­pens, but here’s ex­actly what hap­pens and how and why this sys­tem failed.”

The let­ter to the Se­nate, which Kain signed and pub­licly pro­moted on her Face­book page af­ter her story was pub­lished, closed ear­lier this week with more than 1,300 ad­di­tional sig­na­tures. In the af­ter­math of Kain’s story, dozens of peo­ple with ex­pe­ri­ences just like hers reached out, prov­ing what she’d al­ways known — that she’s not the only one.

“Right now I’m in­ter­ested in fo­cus­ing on the need for re­form of the sys­tem that failed me and con­tin­ues to fail staffers when they need it most,” Kain said. “Congress Too and this let­ter to the Se­nate has been one ac­tion­able step that I could take both by sign­ing and help­ing pro­mote it.”

Kain is done re­hash­ing the de­tails of what was or wasn’t done in her of­fice. She has no in­ter­est in be­ing the face of the story — and she has no in­cli­na­tion to com­ment on Esty’s de­ci­sion not to run for re-elec­tion in Novem­ber. Be­cause for Kain, her part of the story has been told and it’s not about one of­fice and one in­ci­dent of abuse.

It’s about a culture so per­va­sive and so in­grained on Capi­tol

Hill that she, as a 24-year-old in her first pro­fes­sional job, thought that’s what be­ing an adult was sup­posed to be like. And when she re­al­ized it wasn’t, had no idea where to turn.

“I didn’t even know that the Of­fice of Com­pli­ance even ex­isted dur­ing the en­tire time that I worked on the Hill,” Kain said. “And I looked nu­mer­ous times to try when it was re­ally bad in the of­fice, des­per­ately in search of some­place to go and some­one to talk with about this. I didn’t find any­thing. The only thing that seemed ev­i­dent was the Ethics Com­mit­tee, and it was re­ally clear to me when I did look them up, it’s not the equiv­a­lent of an HR.”

There’s an ob­vi­ous hi­er­ar­chy on Capi­tol Hill — from in­terns to the most se­nior level staffers and elected of­fi­cials — that cre­ates a power dy­namic un­like al­most any other in­dus­try, Kain said.

There’s also a whis­pered but un­writ­ten rule across all Con­gres­sional of­fices: don’t do any­thing or bring in any per­sonal business that could re­flect poorly on your elected of­fi­cial. And def­i­nitely don’t bur­den that per­son with cries for help.

It’s the kind of com­bined power struc­ture and men­tal­ity where abuse can thrive, and the rea­son Kain waited months to tell any­one in her of­fice, and years to tell the pub­lic.

“I think a lot of women are in­clined to de-es­ca­late,” Kain said. “I just thought, ‘Maybe this is what it’s like to be an adult at work and I just needed to toughen up.’ It just didn’t seem wor­thy of bring­ing it up. I think the events of May 5, 2016, were quite lit­er­ally what scared me into be­ing forced to re­al­ize all of that.”

Esty said she only learned of Baker’s abu­sive re­la­tion­ship with Kain af­ter that al­co­hol-fu­eled gath­er­ing in May that he or­ga­nized to cel­e­brate his 10th year of work­ing on Capi­tol Hill. Baker got drunk and texted or called Kain about 50 times, and he threat­ened to find her and kill her.

It was ob­vi­ous from the time she was hired, Kain said, that pre­vent­ing per­sonal con­flicts and of­fer­ing re­sources for staffers who’ve ex­pe­ri­enced work­place ha­rass­ment and abuse was not a pri­or­ity in any leg­isla­tive of­fice, let alone the one where she worked.

“We didn’t even have like a ba­sic ha­rass­ment training or any­thing like that,” Kain said. “We had a chem­i­cal leak training but not a just gen­eral work­place ha­rass­ment training and what is OK and not OK in the most ba­sic sense . ... It sends a pretty strong sig­nal about what is im­por­tant and what is wor­thy of even hav­ing a pol­icy for.”

But Kain doesn’t work on Capi­tol Hill any­more. She’s free to tell her story, and along with the thou­sands of other for­mer staffers, push for the re­form to make avail­able the re­sources she never had.

“My hope is that two things come of this,” she said. “The first is that it con­trib­utes in a mean­ing­ful way to the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion and gets Congress to do some­thing to fix this prob­lem. The se­cond, is that if af­ter all of this, if even one per­son, work­ing on the Hill reads my story and rec­og­nizes that some of the things sound sim­i­lar to what they’re go­ing through, and be­cause I shared my story, feel com­pelled to share theirs, I think that will be a suc­cess. I can’t even hon­estly fathom how much of a dif­fer­ence it would have made if peo­ple were talk­ing about this when I worked there.”

Although Esty fired Baker in 2016 af­ter learn­ing about the abuse of Kain, re­cent rev­e­la­tions about how the con­gress­woman mis­han­dled the Baker episode ul­ti­mately led to calls for her de­par­ture.

On April 2, Esty an­nounced she would not seek re-elec­tion for a fourth term in Congress.

Face­book / Con­trib­uted Photo

Anna Kain’s Face­book pro­file photo.

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