Stories Of Sexual Harassment On Beacon Hill Prompt House Review Of Policies

Oct 27, 2017

Massachusetts House Speaker Bob DeLeo has ordered a review of the chamber's policies toward sexual harassment.

This comes after The Boston Globe on Friday cited unnamed sources who described multiple instances of sexual harassment around Beacon Hill.

"I want to assure all members, employees and visitors to the House of Representatives that the House of Representatives has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment of any form, and has and will continue to thoroughly investigate any reported incident of harassment, and take decisive and appropriate action to discipline offenders and to protect victims," DeLeo said Friday.

The Globe story cited an unnamed lobbyist who said a lawmaker implied that he'd vote for a bill in exchange for sexual behaviors. Other sources said they'd observed group of lawmakers watch porn together on a cell phone while in the House chamber.

From the story:

These incidents are not relics of a distant past. Most date from the early 2000s onward. The meeting in which the legislator offered to trade his vote for sex took place around 2007. The legislators huddled around porn in the chamber more recently than that. Such things still happen, those interviewed said.

Nor is such harassment unique to Massachusetts. Last week, 140 women in California’s State House came forward to denounce the culture of sexual misconduct in Sacramento. Women in Illinois politics launched a similar effort Tuesday. In Rhode Island, a lawmaker said a more senior legislator told her that her bills would go further if she did sexual favors.

It’s a measure of how little has changed in Massachusetts that all of the women here spoke on condition that their names not be used. Even after the revelations of the last few weeks, they remain convinced that speaking publicly about harassment would ruin their careers.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, a former House lawmaker, said she feels "fortunate" to have not faced a circumstance like the ones described in the column.

"This is a problem in society that needs to be elevated, and if it's by individuals coming forward to tell their stories so that we can all work together to make it a safer and healthier place for individuals, then we should do that," said Polito, who chairs the Governor's Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

State Senator Anne Gobi in a file photo.
Credit Greg Saulmon / The Republican

Earlier this week -- before the Globe story -- NEPR asked state Senator Anne Gobi if she knew of such cases in state government.

"Maybe there have been instances," Gobi said. "What I'm saying is that it's nothing that I see, and that I do think that if it was happening, that I would know about it. I think the other women would know about it, because we talk, and we try to make sure that we keep an open dialogue with staff, and to know that if there was a problem, that people would come forward."

Provincetown representative Sarah Peake told WBUR that she never experienced sexual harassment at the State House, but echoed the DeLeo's concern.

"Fear of repercussion or retaliation has perhaps led to some victims not wanting to come forward," Peake said. "That is, in many ways, as disturbing as the actual act of sexual harassment."

This report includes information from the State House News Service.