The #MeToo Movement has shed a light on the pervasive nature of workplace sexual harassment throughout the country, and even the world. For far too long, instances of sexual misconduct have been largely ignored or categorized as harmless biproducts of a “boys will be boys” mentality. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania State General Assembly is no stranger to sexual misconduct allegations, with several members of both chambers making headlines for their alleged reprehensible actions.
In June of this year, the Joint State Government Commission issued a report revealing that in the last five years alone almost 600 sexual harassment claims were reported by Pennsylvania state employees across the Commonwealth’s various systems and agencies. The report found that the total number of awards and monetary settlements exceeded $1.9 million. As The Caucus reported in December 2017, the political environment in Harrisburg contributes to a culture that promotes sexual misconduct: “[T]he lack of workplace diversity, significant number of young adult employees, ‘gender power disparities,’ alcohol consumption ‘during and around’ work hours, crude jokes and banter [are ingredients for sexual harassment].”
In response to this prevalent environment of gender-based harassment, the CSE Institute was asked to investigate the policies and procedures for reporting sexual harassment and sexual misconduct within the Pennsylvania General Assembly by the Commonwealth’s Victim Advocate and other government representatives. While our primary mission at the CSE Institute is focused on sexual exploitation in the context of sex trafficking/prostitution, we recognize the interconnectedness of this form of commercial sexual exploitation and other forms, including workplace sexual harassment. We understand that if the condition of one’s access to gainful employment includes being subjected to sexual harassment, there is a clear connection to commerce/economic activity and thus to commercial sexual exploitation. In addition, as an internationally respected policy-generating organization that has partnered with numerous organizations united against sexual exploitation, we determined that this issue squarely fits within our overarching goal of creating gender equality and eradicating gender based violence.
Our team spent over 60 hours researching existing policies and procedures, as well as newly introduced legislation – House Bill 1000, which seeks to reform existing policies that address sexual harassment and misconduct in the General Assembly. With our findings, we drafted and submitted a detailed series of policy recommendations we believe are appropriate to address these systemic issues. Further, Senate Bill 809, which was introduced earlier this month, affirms our position in recommending the creation of a Legislative Conduct Review Board.
The recommendations we submitted were cited in a report issued on Monday by the Dauphin County grand jury tasked with looking into a sexual misconduct case against a former member of the House of Representatives. The grand jury suggested the creation of a novel, independent Office of Legislative Responsibility who would be responsible for investigating allegations against elected members and their staff. The grand jury report further argues that the creation of this office would result in a clearer way for anyone with complaints to proceed.
As a society, we should constantly be working towards eradicating all forms of gender-based violence and abuse. Whether it is focusing on eliminating commercial sexual exploitation, or assuring that sexual misconduct and sexual harassment are no longer commonplace in Harrisburg – it is vital we continue to take the steps necessary to ensure a future where such predatory phenomena are no longer the norm.
All viewed expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.