Down-ballot darkness: Sexual harassment and assault are rampant in the halls of state governments

Down-ballot darkness: Sexual harassment and assault are rampant in the halls of state governments

In the wake of the initial spate of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, women in a variety of professions began speaking up about violations we’ve endured from male colleagues or superiors. The business of politics is anything but immune to the problem, and women in Congress and in statehouses across the country are speaking up.


Women piping up about the sexual harassment they endure in state capitols is anything but a new phenomenon. Some of the stories that “came to light” in years past (see also: Texas in 2013 and Missouri in 2015, just for starters) are only now being rediscovered, because a certain cycle has repeated itself in various states:

A scandal or series of scandals in a legislature will shine a light on the systemic sexism and harassment that occurs in so many state capitols;
women lawmakers open up about their common terrible experiences;
journalists document the horrors in excellent stories; and …
life goes on.

This is not to give short shrift to these pieces or in any way suggest they shouldn’t be written. Quite the contrary: The more women open up publicly about how men in powerful positions abuse that power by harassing the women they work with, the more all of us are forced to confront and deal with a serious problem that thrives in the shadows, away from light and exposure. Maybe the building wave of women’s public accounts of sexual harassment will actually result in real change this time around.

And waves of women are opening up publicly about sexual harassment, specifically in state legislatures. Male lawmakers’ misconduct is coming to light, and many are facing real consequences for their actions. Over just the past few weeks:

In Colorado, two Democrats and two Republicans have faced accusations of sexual harassment from staffers, interns, and a fellow lawmaker, and the Democratic speaker of the state House has called on one of those Democrats to resign.
In Oregon, a Republican state senator has been accused of sexually harassing a fellow senator via multiple instances of inappropriate physical contact and subjecting as many as 15 other women to “unwanted touching.”
A powerful Republican lawmaker in Arizona has been suspended from his position as chair of the budget committee but so far has faced no calls from within his own party to resign over multiple allegations, some from sitting legislators, of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching.

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