147 women call out ‘pervasive’ sexual harassment in state politics, including a local Assembly member targeted by a colleague
By Joe Piasecki
The political culture of California’s State Capitol is rife with sexual harassment, an open letter signed by 147 female lawmakers, legislative staffers and lobbyists declared Tuesday in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
State Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D- Marina del Rey) signed the open letter as not only a witness to degrading comments and sexual advances, she said, but also as a target — by a fellow elected official as another male lawmaker looked on but did nothing.
“After being elected I thought maybe you can get to a level where you don’t have to deal with this anymore, but that’s not true,” she said. “I had no hesitation about signing this letter, and that’s the most disappointing part.”
Burke declined to name the perpetrator and witness to avoid overshadowing the broader statement inclusive of women who aren’t in the position to name names without putting their careers at risk.
Six other state elected officials, including one who told The New York Times she was repeatedly groped by senior lobbyists and lawmakers, and the vice chair of the California Democratic Party also signed the letter, which states:
“As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different. It has not. Each of us has endured or witnessed or worked with women who have experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power. …
“Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities. Insults and sexual innuendo, frequently disguised as jokes, have undermined our professional positions and capabilities. Men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence.”
Lindsay Bubar, a Westside-based political consultant who signed the letter, said sexual harassment can have tremendous negative impacts on women who are expected to remain silent or laugh it off.
“For some women it’s impacted your business or whether you get a seat at the decision-making table. For some it means working with people who treat you that way on a regular basis. It makes you question your talent and your role … your own abilities and your rightful place,” said Bubar, who works with Emerge California, a nonprofit that cultivates new Democratic women leaders.
“Based on my own experiences and those I’ve witnessed or that colleagues have shared with me, it’s everything from sexual harassment in the workplace to meetings that suddenly turn into unwelcome personal encounters, inappropriate comments made in the hallways of the Capitol, and direct [sexual] advances or propositions,” Bubar said.
She and Burke hope the letter will not only deter future abuse, but also encourage men who witness abuse to speak up rather than remain complicit.
“The worst offenders are people who stand by and do nothing. If you see him come close to me and I push him back, why let him come back at me without saying something? Whether you are doing it or watching it, you are culpable,” Burke said of her own experience.
She hopes that encouraging women to support each other in speaking out will accelerate change.
“There’s power in numbers,” echoed Bubar. “When we use our voices collectively, people will notice and take accountability for their actions.”