WSW: The Culture And Politics Of Sexual Harassment At The State Capitol

Jan 25, 2018

State Capitol - file photo
Credit Cheyna Roth / Michigan Public Radio Network

Gongwer Staff Writer Alethia Kasben says most people covering the state Capitol have heard anecdotal evidence of sexually inappropriate comments. That led her to the story of what female lawmakers and staff members hear.

Kasben says female lawmakers are more likely to deal with an inappropriate comment themselves by confronting a fellow lawmaker. But she says staff may not feel as comfortable talking to a lawmaker or making a complaint. Kasben says staff members worry about politics being involved.

There have been suggestions for changing the procedure, according to Kasben. That includes finding a third party that staff members could talk too, to try and remove the complaint from the political atmosphere. But Kasben says the House would still pay any settlements.

Most state lawmakers are men, including 34 of 38 state Senators. Out of 109 House current state House members a little more than 30 are women. Kasben says Capitol staff is more equal, but most leadership positions are held by men. Parties and fundraisers were alcohol is served and long hours working together are seen as factors that contribute to an environment where sexually suggestive comments are heard often.

Kasben says she hopes to write more about the atmosphere at the state Capitol for Gongwer (subscription required) She says there are more stories out there. Kasben says there may be stories of worse behavior or more consistent patterns of inappropriate behavior.