Leg­is­la­tures be­ing pressed to pro­duce re­ports of mis­con­duct

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Mor­gan Lee and David A. Lieb

Doc­u­ment­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaints against state law­mak­ers and pub­licly re­leas­ing the out­comes can pro­vide en­cour­age­ment for peo­ple who might oth­er­wise be hes­i­tant to re­port al­le­ga­tions of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior.

Ex­perts and many fe­male law­mak­ers say that’s true even if the com­plaints are ul­ti­mately dis­missed, be­cause it shows leg­isla­tive cham­bers take the mat­ter se­ri­ously.

“If there’s no ac­count­abil­ity, if we don’t know what the out­comes are ... it makes it re­ally hard for them to come for­ward, it makes it hard for them to trust the sys­tem,” said Deb­bie Dougherty, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri who re­searches sex­ual ha­rass­ment poli­cies.

In New Mex­ico, lob­by­ist Ju­lianna Koob said she was ha­rassed three years ago while work­ing on be­half of a coali­tion of sex­ual as­sault pro­grams but never re­ported it for fear that do­ing so would af­fect her liveli­hood.

“I had no idea that there was a pol­icy for sex­ual ha­rass­ment, and the be­hav­ior was so in the dark that I didn’t think that it should have been re­ported” at the time, Koob said.

Be­fore con­ven­ing this year, the New Mex­ico Leg­is­la­ture over­hauled its sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy to in­clude an out­side le­gal coun­sel and pro­vided anti-ha­rass­ment train­ing for law­mak­ers. It sub­se­quently re­ceived a flurry of ha­rass­ment com­plaints — two against law­mak­ers and two against staff — dur­ing a 30-day ses­sion that ended Feb. 15. That stood in sharp con­trast to the prior decade, when just one for­mal com­plaint of ha­rass­ment was filed against a law­maker.

A sim­i­lar surge oc­curred in the Mis­souri House, which re­ceived twice as

“If there’s no ac­count­abil­ity, if we don’t know what the out­comes are ... it makes it re­ally hard for them to come for­ward, it makes it hard for them to trust the sys­tem.”

— Deb­bie Dougherty, com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri

many sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaints in the two years af­ter strength­en­ing its poli­cies in late 2015 as it had in the two pre­vi­ous years.

“If you track this, it is like in­fluenza — you can see where the out­breaks are, you can see where the prob­lems are, and then you can specif­i­cally tai­lor a rem­edy,” said Jen­nifer Drobac, a law pro­fes­sor at In­di­ana Univer­sity who fo­cuses on sex­ual ha­rass­ment law.

She said the con­stant churn of law­mak­ers and staff be­cause of term lim­its and elec­tions makes it all the more im­por­tant to es­tab­lish a for­mal sys­tem of doc­u­ment­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct com­plaints.

The Kansas Leg­is­la­ture is one many across the coun­try that told the AP it has no records of any sex­ual mis­con­duct com­plaints against law­mak­ers since 2008. Yet a for­mer top leg­isla­tive aide went pub­lic last fall with as­ser­tions that a law­maker had asked her for sex and that fe­male col­lege in­terns had reg­u­larly served as des­ig­nated driv­ers for drunken law­mak­ers in re­cent years.

The Kansas City-based non­profit Women’s Foun­da­tion, which rec­om­mended re­vi­sions to the Mis­souri House poli­cies, re­cently un­der­took a sim­i­lar re­view for the Kansas Leg­is­la­ture and sug­gested it be­gin re­port­ing an­nual data on sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims and out­comes.

“It’s more con­cern­ing when states are say­ing there aren’t any sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims be­ing filed, be­cause that means the poli­cies and pro­ce­dures prob­a­bly aren’t im­ple­mented and put into prac­tice,” said Wendy Doyle, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Women’s Foun­da­tion.


In this Mon­day, Jan. 15, 2018 file photo, at­tor­ney and hu­man re­sources con­sul­tant Ed­ward Mit­nick of Just Train­ing So­lu­tions pro­vides manda­tory anti-ha­rass­ment train­ing to New Mex­ico state law­mak­ers in Santa Fe, N.M. The train­ing is part of an ef­fort to make the Capi­tol work en­vi­ron­ment safer amid a na­tion­wide de­bate over sex­ual mis­con­duct.

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