“Dear Maryland Legislative Leaders, It is with great hope for the future that we present the Recommendations For a Harassment-Free Legislature developed by the Women’s Caucus of the Maryland General Assembly,” wrote Delegate Ariana Kelly, a 41-year-old from Bethesda and President of the Maryland Women’s Caucus, in the report’s opening comments.
Kelly, herself a victim of sexual harassment recently penned a Washington Post op-ed column, chronicling an event that took place her first year in office. A married senior colleague grabbed her butt in front of two male colleagues who did nothing to stop him. “I was utterly humiliated,” she said. “The next morning I went into a female legislator’s office, closed the door and cried.”
In no way is Kelly alone.
In statements given anonymously because of the fear of career-killing retribution, many victims of harassment and assault told their disturbing stories:
“I hate it when you’re at a crowded reception or something, and some man needs to get past you. Instead of using words, or tapping on an appropriate body part, they use the opportunity to touch you in a gross sexual way, caressing your shoulder, or the small of your back. It’s subtle enough that you have to pretend it didn’t happen. But you know it did.” – Current Staffer
“A legislator came into my office and sat down very close to me. We were alone in my boss’ office and he closed the door. He started telling me how I had a lot of potential, reached over and started rubbing my knees. I froze and he put his hands all the way up my skirt. I stood up and asked him to leave.” – Current Staffer
“I was introduced to a senior male legislator amongst a group of other staff. When we went to shake hands he held mine longer than necessary and began to caress the inside of my palm with his finger. I didn’t want to pull away or make a scene at the time, and felt generally stunned. He smiled boldly and said he looked forward to working with me. I generally tried to avoid him after that.” – Former Staffer
“I asked a Senator I had worked for to write me a recommendation for law school and he said he’d only do it because I had cleavage exposed that day.” – Former staffer
“I worked as a lobbyist for a healthcare provider that provides women’s reproductive health care. A male legislator on a health committee asked me to get him a case of condoms, size large. He explained to me that he was very busy during session, and didn’t want to get anyone pregnant. At first I thought he was kidding, but he asked me again several times. Finally I said absolutely not, because it would violate ethics laws. He literally never spoke to me again. He was an important vote in the primary committee for bills of interest to my employer.” – Former Lobbyist
“A male legislator described the color and print on his boxers and talked repeatedly about his “junk” in my office. Sometimes we work with legislators who are only a few years older and the line between friendly and professional is blurred. It feels like a fraternity house.” – Current Staffer
“One time, I was standing in the corner of a hallway waiting for a meeting. An older male legislator walked up to me, invaded my personal bubble and leaned in close to me, trapping me where I was standing. He smiled and said ‘man, that dress is really working for you.’ Thankfully, someone else came in the hallway and, recognizing what was happening, loudly said hello to me. The legislator winked at me and walked away. I feel sick to my stomach every time I think about that incident.” – Former Staffer
“A senior legislative colleague put his hand on my thigh in front of several colleagues. When I scolded him, he shamed me.” – Current Legislator
“I went to a conference after party where I drank too much. Another lobbyist offered to get me safely in a taxi and instead took me to his room, got fully undressed and pushed me onto his bed. I had to run from his room.” – Former Lobbyist
“I was offered a ride home from a legislative reception in Eastport from a colleague. Instead of driving me home, he pulled the car over to the side of the road, locked the doors, grabbed my breasts, and stuck his tongue in my ear. I had to push him off me forcefully, struggle to unlock the door, and walk home.” – Current Legislator
Kelly wrote that she hoped that the newly appointed Workplace Harassment Commission would help change the status quo of harassment and create a safe environment for women and men who have been victims of harassment.
“Gender experts have long called for an intersectional approach to social change, and this commission is another opportunity to continue that work,” Kelly wrote. “It’s an exciting time for all of us who care about healthy workplace culture. Our work is far from done; we look forward to working with you without delay to implement these and any other recommended changes.”
There are many excellent women candidates running for office this year who will join the very strong women who are currently in the State House. I can’t help but imagine a first day of the 2019 session when the Grabby-Hands Caucus looks up and sees that their time is done.
Vicky Bruce is a sexual assault survivor and editor for the Arundel Patriot.
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