We suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when we learned that the tentacles of sexual harassment exposed across the country reach into the Kansas Capitol.
Three women — a former legislative staff member, a former lobbyist and a former campaign worker — told The Kansas City Star last week that they had witnessed and been the victims of sexual harassment during their work. This week, two former interns said they were harassed.
They reported a range of events, from being propositioned for sex, to inappropriately long hugs, to comments about their bodies and clothing, to female interns serving as taxi drivers for Democratic lawmakers who had been drinking. Abbie Hodgson, the former legislative staff member, said she feared for the interns’ safety because she considered some of the lawmakers to be “predatory toward women.”
Stories differ about what happened after Hodgson complained to her boss, state Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Democrat who was minority leader of the House at the time.
Hodgson says Burroughs told her he did not plan to act on her complaint. Hodgson says she confronted other male lawmakers and “was told it wasn’t my business.”
Burroughs said he took immediate action after Hodgson’s complaint to end the use of interns as drivers.
Hodgson and Burroughs may disagree on how the situation was handled, but no one disputes the allegations of sexual harassment.
Again, we shouldn’t be surprised that sexual harassment is part of the culture in Topeka, just as it is in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and everywhere else. But it is sad and frustrating, just the same.
Women simply should not have to endure such abuse.
To the Kansas legislature’s credit, a review is now under way of its sexual harassment policy, and House Democrats will all receive training regarding sexual harassment.
Women who work in the statehouse — or anywhere — must know that they can speak up about sexual harassment without fear of retribution. Their complaints must be thoroughly investigated. Offenders must be dealt with severely, regardless of their position.