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Sexual harassment survey points to state lawmakers

September 21, 2018

On the same day that legislative leaders detailed a new sexual harassment policy, a survey was released showing that one in five people who work at the state Capitol in Hartford have experienced sexual harassment.

Legislators were the most frequent perpetrators of the sexual harassment, which included sexual jokes, comments or unwanted touching, according to the survey released Friday.

Also on Friday, legislative leaders released a new sexual harassment policy — more than twice the length of their old one — which adds new training requirements and ways victims can report harassment.

The news comes as lawmakers in Washington wrestle with how to handle a report of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In the past year, an explosion of sexual harassment allegations have ensnared high-profile men from Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K. to Al Franken and produced a #MeToo movement that continues to expand.

State lawmakers reacted by holding a public hearing on sexual harassment in April and conducting a survey. The anonymous online survey was emailed by the Office of Legislative Management to all who work in the Capitol building including lawmakers, legislative aides and interns, full-time legislative staff, vendors who work in the building and press. Almost 600 Connecticut lawmakers and Capitol employees responded.

“After an extensive review of the results of last spring’s survey, and working with experts and outside counsel, we believe that the updated policy makes clear that the General Assembly does not tolerate sexual harassment in any form,” said Democratic and Republican leaders of the state House and Senate in a joint statement Friday.

The survey found 100 people, or 18 percent of respondents, had experienced sexual comments, compliments or innuendos at the Capitol. Another 87 people had heard sexual jokes or stories. Fifty-five had felt “unwelcome physical contact such as kissing, touching, patting, pinching, or brushing against a person’s body.”

About 3 percent of people reported they had been offered a job-related benefit in exchange for sexual conduct.

The sexual harassment people experienced mostly occurred in the last five years, according to the survey.

The survey respondents were 49% female and 42% male (some respondents preferred not to answer), but there was no gender breakdown on individual question respondents.

If someone experienced sexual harassment at the Capitol, he or she most commonly did nothing about it, according to the survey. If he or she did take action, most people chose to avoid the perpetrator, and some asked the perpetrator to stop.

But less than 1 percent of respondents — only four individuals — said they reported their sexual harassment.

People largely did not report because they believed nothing would be done, the survey showed. Many people also feared retaliation.

Only 63 percent of respondents had taken sexual harassment training while working at the Capitol.

“Sexual harassment is endemic to all workplaces,” said Christine Palm, who used to run sexual harassment trainings for state agencies and now has a private business conducting trainings. “This has been going on for a really, really longtime and the consciousness of the prevalence of it is rising. Is the behavior diminishing? We have a lot more work to do.”

New guidelines

The new policy published Friday says all lawmakers, employees and interns must take a two hours of sexual harassment training within six months of being hired, and every two years after. The old policy from 2014 only said all staff had to take a training.

While the old policy gave victims a small list of employees to whom they could give a sexual harassment complaint, the new policy allows victims to give a complaint to any legislator, employee or designated outside party. The complaint recipient then must give it to human resources.

Now the policy covers behavior away from the Capitol complex, including at legislative-sponsored events or meetings. It also allows individuals to make an informal or formal complaint. It specifies that victims can ask for a decision on their case to be reviewed, and the accused can appeal the decision.

The policy states that legislators and employees have a responsibility to report sexual harassment and supervisors and human resources should monitor the workplace for it.

“Our goal is to provide a work environment in which instances of harassment can be reported without fear of retaliation and where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and free from sexual harassment, both subtle and overt,” legislative leaders wrote.

The Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence and Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund said they are analyzing the policy and will issue comments on it soon.

“It is good to see them take the step of sharing this survey and updating their policy,” said Kate Farrar, executive director of CWEALF.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

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