State Legislatures Grapple with Sexual Harassment Allegations After Weinstein
Sexual harassment training has been ordered for every member of the Ohio Senate following the October resignation of Sen. Cliff Hite because of allegations the Republican asked a female state employee for hugs.
Hite admitted the “inappropriate behavior” in a statement posted on Twitter but maintained there was no “inappropriate physical contact,” beyond hugging the woman.
Cleveland.com discovered a state document that showed the unnamed woman said she had to reject Hite’s advances more than a dozen times over two months.
And just as allegations of sexual harassment have not been limited to Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood, Hite is not the only state legislative politician to be accused of acting “inappropriately” with a woman on the job.
State Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R) said sexual harassment by her legislative colleagues has been a part of her day, every day, for the past six years.
"Almost immediately upon my arrival to the Capitol, I experienced unwanted sexual advances and lewd and suggestive comments regarding my body and appearance from male colleagues,” Ugenti-Rita wrote in a public letter that could be accessed through her Twitter account.
Although she never released the names of those who allegedly harassed her, Ugenti-Rita wrote that she “began to feel isolated and that I was being held to a different standard than the other members” after going public with her allegations.
More than 140 women — California Capitol staff, legislators, political consultants and lobbyists — signed a letter in October in which they said they suffered under a “pervasive” culture of sexual harassment.
“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,” the letter read in part.
One of the women who signed the letter, Pamela Lopez, a lobbyist, said a male legislator masturbated in front of her in a bar bathroom.
“I remember thinking, ‘Don’t scream or shout. I don't want to cause a scene,’” Lopez told the Los Angeles Times. “‘Just look like nothing happened.’”
While some of the women in legislative halls of power have declined to name the men they accused of sexual harassment, Denise Rotheimer, who works in Springfield as a lobbyist for victims of violent crimes, has named names.
She called out Democratic Sen. Ira Silverstein in front of a legislative committee, testifying that he had sent her hundreds of unwanted Facebook messages, called her at midnight, and made comments about her appearance.
Rotheimer, who is running for a spot in the Illinois House on the GOP ticket, also told lawmakers this wasn’t the first time she’d complained about Silverstein’s actions. Rothstein said no one paid her any attention for a year.
They’re listening now.