New York Times - 10.18.2017

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California Today: A Rallying Cry Against Harassment in Sacramento [article]

By Jason M. Bailey
Oct. 18, 2017

There has been no shortage of women eager to sign a letter denouncing a culture of sexual harassment in the state Capitol. After more than 140 initially lent their names, dozens more contacted organizers Tuesday asking to take part.

In the letter and detailed comments to reporters, several lawmakers and lobbyists spoke of their experiences being groped and cornered by sexually aggressive men. Many were speaking out for the first time, but some had openly talked about their ordeals to friends and colleagues for years.

But so far, none have publicly named the men doing the harassing.

Women said the harassment in Sacramento has come from high-ranking staff members, experienced lobbyists and lawmakers. Few have filed formal complaints and even fewer have tried to press charges.

In interviews, several women said they thought little good would come from naming specific men. They spoke of watching the intense scrutiny of Anita Hill in the 1990s when she testified against Clarence Thomas, now an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. (“She was a perfect lawyer from Yale,” one woman said. “If she was questioned, how much more for me?”)

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Democrat who leads the Legislative Women’s Caucus and spoke of her own experiences being grabbed, said there was too much onus on women who lived through the harassment.

“Why does the burden have to be on the victims?” she asked. “There are no guarantees we’re going to be protected. We’re talking about our reputations and our careers. How am I going to prove that you’re holding legislation because you’ve harassed me? People will get called crazy or worse.”

Pamela Lopez, a Sacramento lobbyist who said that a lawmaker trapped her inside a bathroom while he masturbated, said that rather than identifying “one guy who takes the fall,” she was more concerned about changing a “pervasive culture” in the Legislature.

“If we could be less punitive and not make it about one or two people, then we might be able to see some change,” she said. “We need everyone to be able to step in and say something as soon as they hear something is off. We need everyone to say, ‘No, enough, that’s not O.K.’”

Danielle Kando-Kaiser