State leaders are reviewing sexual harassment policies and calling for more protections for accusers amid allegations of unwanted sexual advances on female staffers and lobbyists on Beacon Hill, as reported by North of Boston Media Group.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, has directed his legal team to review the state’s policies on sexual harassment and recommend ways to improve how the government deals with complaints. He wants a report on his desk by March.
The review comes in response to a recent Boston Globe column detailing the experiences of a least a dozen women who said they’ve been sexually harassed or received inappropriate comments from male colleagues.
The report, which largely relied on unnamed sources, didn’t identify the alleged perpetrators.
DeLeo said he was “infuriated and deeply disturbed” by the allegations and vowed to “investigate any reported incident of harassment and take decisive and appropriate action to discipline offenders and protect victims.”
“While I understand and support their desire to remain anonymous, the fact that victims fear the consequences to their careers of reporting the harassment is as upsetting as the harassment itself,” he said. “To hear that we may have failed is deeply troubling to me.”
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said his chamber reviewed policies about harassment several years ago, but he called for an additional review.
State Auditor Suzanne Bump wants lawmakers to create and sign a code of conduct that prohibits unwanted sexual advances.
Bump, a former lawmaker and legislative aide, said the state government has a policy for addressing allegations of sexual harassment and assault by staff members, but it doesn’t address claims made by or against lawmakers, lobbyists and other frequent visitors to the Statehouse.
“We need to have a clear set of expectations for lawmakers and sanctions for this kind of behavior, and members need to agree that it should not be tolerated,” she said.
Bump, who has worked as a lobbyist in other state capitols, said she doesn’t believe the issues on Beacon Hill are different from those in other states.
“This is a problem that persists in society in general,” she said. “Frankly I don’t think that Massachusetts is any worse – if not better – than what I have witnessed or heard about in other states. People need to put this in perspective.”
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, said a confidential survey of women who work at the Capitol could show the extent of the problem.
“That might be helpful, if it’s done right,” she said. “It would give us a sense of how big the problem is.”
Rep. Ann Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, agrees. She said it’s important that victims of unwanted sexual advances know their complaints will be addressed.
“Women shouldn’t be afraid to come forward if they’ve been harassed or assaulted,” she said. “We need to be constantly in touch with what’s happening, and if there’s a bad apple in the group that that person is dealt with immediately.”
Neither Campbell or Ferrante said they had been personally harassed during their years on Beacon Hill, or know of any recent complaints involving other lawmakers or staff.
They said one way to reduce sexual harassment by men in the hall of government is to elect more women to leadership positions.
Eight of 14 constitutional officers — including Bump, Lt. Gov. Karen Polito, Treasurer Deb Goldberg and Attorney General Maura — are women. However, women only represent about one-quarter of the 200-member Legislature, according to the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.
The issue of harassment and assault has come under intense national scrutiny in recent weeks, amid a growing number of allegations against prominent figures in media, business and entertainment.
Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused by dozens of women that he raped or sexually harassed them, leading to his firing from the company he co-founded and numerous criminal investigations. The allegations were detailed in a recent expose by the New York Times.
Those accusations prompted numerous claims of harassment and abuse against powerful men in other industries. This week, Michael Oreskes, a top executive at National Public Radio, resigned a day after The Washington Post reported he had been accused of making inappropriate advances toward two women when he ran the New York Times’ Washington bureau nearly 20 years ago.
Several female members of Congress this week revealed that they’ve been harassed or subjected to hostile sexual comments by male colleagues.
Campbell said the allegations underscore that no woman is immune — even in the highest reaches of government.
“These women deserve a lot of credit for coming forward,” she said. “It takes a lot of guts to do this, when your job could be on the line.”