Just days ago, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon opened the 2018 session by urging his fellow lawmakers to “do better” in changing Capitol culture relating to sexual harassment, calling for “a community of active protectors.”
We also learned that the two houses have established a Joint Committee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response to create uniform sexual misconduct reporting and prevention policies.
While I believe California’s Democratic majority takes a great deal of pride in responding to issues du jour with a unified show of attention, it’s the people we have elected, and continue to elect to office, who need a day of reckoning.
I’ve attended the Assembly’s mandatory two-hour sexual harassment prevention course.
It took such pains to be inoffensive it would probably be appropriate for use in a kindergarten class. No, you shouldn’t have a screensaver of a partially clad supermodel on your computer. No, Tommy shouldn’t comment on Betsy’s tight skirt or invite her over to his hotel room for drinks. But when the instructor says that all harassment claims are taken seriously and everyone is held to the same standard, some people giggle. Some roll their eyes or look at their co-workers. It doesn’t need to be said aloud that elected officials can, and often are, held to a different set of standards. Just ask the women who deal with misconduct and never said anything for fear of backlash. Or the women who say something only to be told in no uncertain terms: “it’s not that big of a deal.” Or the women who were fired for speaking out.
It speaks volumes that the newly established joint committee contains seven women and one man. On one hand, the onus seems to be placed squarely on the shoulders of women to fix a problem that’s almost solely perpetrated by men; on the other hand, at least it will be women’s minds and voices that shape the solutions of a problem that almost solely affects women.
While all the re-examining of policies and procedures is good, what we really need to be doing is re-examining the types of people we elect to positions of power. Regardless of what the legislature does to protect victims and change long-accepted behavior, we must look beyond any committee — right into the eyes of our elected officials. We must demand them to demonstrate the qualities they espouse to be so important — equal workplaces free of harassment. Or even better: let’s support lawmakers whose legislation aims to protect victims and expose abusers. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez will introduce a bill to give whistleblower protection to legislative employees who report violations. She’s introduced the bill five times before — and it’s been killed in the Senate each time. Maybe this is the year? And Sen. Connie Leyva just introduced a bill that would bar secrecy clauses in settlement agreements that involve specific types of sexual misconduct. Bills like this have the power to change how our system operates.
We’re living in a reality where our current president of the United States stands accused by dozens of women for sexual misconduct. We’ve seen two of our state lawmakers resign in the past few months and another step aside while he’s investigated.
It would be nice if the adults who we charge with creating laws that impact our lives could police their own behavior. Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re witnessing. Thankfully, our democratic system allows us a say at the ballot box.
Let’s support the elected officials who create meaningful legislation: call, write, and email your representatives and share your opinion. Let’s work to elect more women to public office, and then champion those women to positions on committees that have powerful influence. And let’s tell all of our elected officials what kind of behavior we expect of them, and if they don’t comply, let’s show them how we feel with one fewer vote.
Amanda Sampson is a field representative for the Office of Assemblyman Rudy Salas, who serves the 32nd District.