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SPOTLIGHT ON HARASSMENT: SCDS mothers at Capitol say ‘Enough,’ sign protest letter with 140 outraged women

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When lobbyist Kim Stone (mother of eighth grader Casey) was 35 and new to the job, she was sexually harassed by a political candidate.

“I would back up, and he would come forward in this little conversational circle,” Stone said.

“He was chasing me.

“It was a game of cat and mouse. The other people in the conversation could see what was happening, but (everyone) pretended like it wasn’t.

“(It was) kind of like when somebody farts in church, or yoga, and everybody just acts like it didn’t happen.”

In the midst of the recent sexual harassment scandals, Stone and other women of the California legislature have said, “Enough.”

More than 140 women – including lobbyists, legislators, and Capitol staff – signed a letter published Oct. 14 addressing the “pervasive, inappropriate and sexually harassing behavior” that many of them have experienced, joining the global conversation.

Among those signatures were Country Day parents Cassie Gilson (mother of sixth grader Ellery Kaye) and Stone.

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons under creative commons license)
California State Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra resigned from office on Nov. 26 after allegations of sexual harassment from six women.

According to an article by Melanie Mason in The Los Angeles Times (“Female lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists speak out on ‘pervasive’ harassment in California’s Capitol,” Oct. 17), the letter was penned after Adama Iwu, head of government relations in the western states for Visa, “aired her anger to a friend over a recent ‘unpleasant situation’ at a public event.”

The story explains that her male colleagues who witnessed the sexual harassment incident thought it was all right because she knew the offender.

“Their venting soon included a handful of people – and then dozens more, as Iwu and her friends crafted a public statement of exasperation,” the story says.

Gilson said the letter was an “unambiguous way” for her to say that sexual misconduct is unacceptable and cannot continue.

“(The letter was a way) to join with a group of women that I know and respect (and) use the leverage of our collective voices to make some progress,” she said.

The letter states, “Men have groped and touched us without our consent (and) made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities.”

Other offenses listed include insults, sexual innuendo and threats to women’s jobs.

But, it adds, “We’re done with this.

“Each of us who signed this op-ed will no longer tolerate the perpetrators or enablers who do.”

Stone said her experience with the political candidate taught her, as a young lobbyist, that it was part of her job to tolerate “that kind of treatment.”

“If it happened in front of my boss, not only would he not do anything about it, but he wouldn’t even say anything to me afterwards like, ‘Hey, sorry that happened; you shouldn’t have to put up with that,’” Stone said.

“There was no public acknowledgment that that was inappropriate behavior, (so) I learned that that was a normal and expected part of my job.”

The letter asks, “Why didn’t we speak up?” and answers “Sometimes out of fear. Sometimes out of shame.” And, equally as important, because the men in question were “bosses, gatekeepers, and contacts.”

“We don’t want to jeopardize our future, make waves, or be labeled ‘crazy,’ ‘troublemaker’ or ‘asking for it,’” it states. “Worse, we’re afraid when we speak up that no one will believe us, or we will be blacklisted.”

Gilson added that this is not a problem unique to the Capitol – it exists in all professional settings.

“It’s a reflection of our history,” Gilson said. “It exists everywhere.

The women behind the op-ed also created the “We Said Enough” movement, a platform to “help amplify the voices and the message in that letter,” according to Gilson.

“The broader conversation is what’s going to lead to an awareness that is critical and the more formal policies and approaches that the legislature and businesses – any organizations – can use to minimize this dynamic,” Gilson said.

When Stone signed the letter, she thought about her daughter, she said.

“It is, in part, because I have a daughter and a son that I chose to (sign the letter),” Stone said. “I don’t want Casey, in her professional life, to have to think (this is) normal. It’s not. It’s wrong. It’s messed up.”

By Sahej Claire 

To read about an alumna’s colleague speaking out against misconduct in academia, the first part of the “Spotlight on Harassment” series, click here.

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