In Letter, Female Lawmakers Challenge Culture of Sexual Harassment in California Politics

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In Letter, Female Lawmakers Challenge Culture of Sexual Harassment in California Politics

"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."

A letter signed by more than 140 women who work in the California Capitol, including six lawmakers, reveals that many women in the legislature have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. (Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr/cc)

A letter signed by more than 140 women who work in California's legislature has shed light this week on the widespread nature of sexual harassment in many kinds of workplaces, in the wake of mounting allegations of sexual misconduct in the film industry and the #MeToo demonstration that garnered attention on social media this week.

Female lawmakers, staffers, and lobbyists sent the letter to the Los Angeles Times on Monday. The document stopped short of accusing any government employees by name, but was meant to bring women's experiences in the California Capitol out into the open and show that that state's government has work to do in ensuring a safe and respectful work environment for lawmakers and other workers.

"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," wrote the women. The letter continued:

Each of us has endured, or witnessed or worked with women who have experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces. Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities. Insults and sexual innuendo, frequently disguised as jokes, have undermined our professional positions and capabilities. Men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like.

Just two women who work in the Capitol were original signers of the letter, after a lobbyist confided in a colleague about in an incident of sexual misconduct —but the number of signers grew as word spread.

Six legislators and two retired lawmakers are among the signers of the letter, including Democratic Assemblywoman Autumn Burke. "It was just really important that we start to talk about a culture and a change in culture. When you make it about one person, it loses sight of how pervasive the problem is," said Burke in an interview with the Associated Press.

Senate President Kevin De Leon, a Democrat, addressed the letter in a statement on Tuesday.

"I applaud the courage of women working in and around the Capitol who are coming forward and making their voices heard," he said. "The Senate is reviewing its procedures and policies to ensure that we are doing all we can to promote a safe workplace and culture of respect."

A Rasmussen poll released on Wednesday found that 46 percent of Americans say they have experienced or know someone who has experienced sexual harassment at work. Another survey taken by the Washington Post/ABC last week showed that 58 percent of women who experienced unwanted sexual advances in the workplace did not report them to a supervisor—a trend that women in California's government hope will change with more statements like theirs.

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