America is in the midst of a cultural reckoning, as women call out inappropriate behavior they have endured in workplaces from coast to coast. That includes statehouses, places governed by power and status as well as civic will. Complaints about harassment have emerged in capitals from Minnesota to Oregon, and on Tuesday, lawmakers in California will grapple with allegations of misbehavior that have been plaguing Sacramento.
A committee, led by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, will hold the first of what will likely be several hearings on sexual harassment and current procedures for reporting problems that workers encounter in the capitol.
“We’ve heard from a lot of women that they’re afraid to come forward,” says Friedman, a Democrat representing the Los Angeles area. “It’s important that the committee gets to the bottom of why.” Many have said they fear retaliation or the loss of their jobs, or that they don’t have faith in the reporting mechanisms available to them now.
In October, more than 140 women signed an open letter describing a government culture where “dehumanizing behavior” is pervasive. The signatories include lobbyists and legislators and other women who work in a building where more than three-fourths of lawmakers are men. Among their listed grievances are groping, inappropriate sexual comments and threats about their jobs that forced “compliance.”