The leaders of the House and Senate acknowledged Monday that their offices have received complaints of sexual harassment at the State House, but neither man would go so far as to blame a unique culture on Beacon Hill for the recent stories of women being abused by men in power.
“It’s not only a State House issue,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters. “You’re hearing stories in other states and nationally as well.”
DeLeo on Friday introduced an order adopted by the House requiring House counsel Jim Kennedy to conduct a comprehensive review of the branch’s sexual harassment policies and report back with recommendations in March 2018.
The action was spurred by a column in The Boston Globe in which a dozen women shared their anonymous stories of being sexual harassed at the State House by current and former elected officials.
Both DeLeo and Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, who have decades of combined experience working at the State House, said they have dealt with sexual harassment complaints during their tenures in the top legislative posts.
Rosenberg, who became Senate president in 2015, said he has dealt with two complaints in three years. “Both of those reports were handled according to the policy and both worked out to the satisfaction of the person who had been accosted,” Rosenberg said.
DeLeo, who came to power in 2009, did not put a number on the complaints he has received, and would not say whether they were lodged against lawmakers, staff, or people from outside the building. “Any action or any complaint that has been brought to our attention, we’ve handled. We’ve handled as quickly as possible, obviously with the victim in mind and we got the result we were looking for,” he said.
Rosenberg said that after he was elected president of the Senate in 2015, he brought in a “professional” to review the Senate’s sexual harassment policy and make sure it was modern and up to date. “We have stuck to it and adhered to it,” Rosenberg said, later adding, “Our policy is working quite well, but we try to be vigilant and if we see opportunities to improve we will do that.”
Six female senators met with senior staff in the Senate president’s office Monday to review the policy again, and identified areas for improvement, including intern training, Rosenberg said.
The House and Senate maintain their own human resources departments. DeLeo said the sexual harassment policy is spelled out in the House employee handbook, and indicated that mandatory training for House employees would be something Kennedy would look into.
In addition to mandatory training, the cochairs of the Women’s Caucus Sexual Assault Working Group — Representatives Lori Ehrlich and Tricia Farley-Bouvier — called for an immediate five-step action plan that also included an anonymous survey to gauge the level of harassment within the State House.
One former State House aide who worked inside and outside the building for years in various capacities, including as executive director of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators, posted on Facebook last Friday that anyone surprised by the allegations raised in YvonneAbraham’s column are “part of the problem.”
Christina M. Knowles, who shared her Facebook post publicly on Twitter, said she had a “gold mine” of stories from her more than 10 years working on Beacon Hill as an aide and lobbyist that would “ruin many careers and lives.”