Vice News - 10.18.2017

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Hundreds of women sign letter alleging sexual harassment in government [article]

By Alex Lubben Oct 18, 2017

A wave of sexual harassment allegations and accounts of widespread toxic, misogynistic behavior in the workplace has been cresting since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke earlier this month. Now, women in one of the country’s most powerful liberal bastions are telling their stories.

More than 200 women working in the California Capitol signed a letter, first published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, alleging rampant sexual misconduct among men in the Legislature and lobbyists. The California statehouse in Sacramento is one of the most influential state bodies in the country, often responsible for setting the tone nationally on everything from environmental policy to immigration.

“Last week millions of Americans were shocked to learn of the behavior of billionaire mogul Harvey Weinstein. We were not,” the letter reads. “As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different. It has not.”

Among those who signed were six of the 26 women in the Legislature, Capitol staffers, lobbyists, officials from both parties, and two retired lawmakers, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The letter accuses men in their industry of everything from groping to sexual innuendo — leaving them largely unable to protest because they “hold our professional fates in their hands” and “leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like.”

“We don’t want to jeopardize our future, make waves, or be labeled ‘crazy,’ ‘troublemaker,’ or ‘asking for it.’ Worse, we’re afraid when we speak up that no one will believe us, or we will be blacklisted,” the letter reads.

Adama Iwu, a lobbyist with VISA in Sacramento who started circulating the letter, said she did so after an “unfortunate encounter with a drunken colleague.”

She said it happened in front of a group of male colleagues, moments after they’d been talking about Harvey Weinstein and what men can do as allies in fighting against sexual harassment.

“It was very frustrating to have this happen in front of guys I consider friends, and who I know want to be allies,” she told VICE News. “And yet they didn’t even see it.”

The goal of the letter, she says, isn’t just to “name a couple names and get rid of a few bad actors so we can declare victory,” she says. “We’re looking for a culture shift.”

And it’s not just the California capital that’s being denounced as a boys’ club by the women who work there — women who work in other state legislatures are speaking up, too.

In Rhode Island, Democratic Rep. Teresa Tanzi told local media that a colleague implied that sleeping with him would help her bills pass. A lawmaker in North Dakota, Democrat Angie Buhl O’Donnell from Sioux Falls, also took to Facebook to describe an incident where one of her colleagues, Brian Gosh, who was then the Speaker of the House, made inappropriate comments about her breasts.

Danielle Kando-Kaiser