Stories of sexual harassment suffered by women employees in California’s Capitol are now starting to reach the public consciousness after an open letter circulated raising the alarm about sexism and harassment happening around the Capitol.
The women may have found courage and inspiration from the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, the once powerful Hollywood producer toppled by sexual assault and harassment allegations of a number of women. More than 300 women have signed the open letter related to sexual abuses in the Capitol, double than the original tally.
One of those who shared her ordeal is Elise Flynn Gyore who said Raul Bocanegra, now a Democratic Assemblyman from Pacoima, groped her eight years ago when he was still serving as a legislative chief of staff. The incident led to a formal investigation. Bocanegra has also apologized for said incident.
Many of the women who signed the open letter, however, opted not to name the men who harassed them or made sexual advances. They clarified that their goal is to focus on dialogue on uprooting the Capitol’s enduring culture of sexism and on implementing stricter policies that would be essential in deterring transgressors.
There were many stories shared by women of the many forms the harassment took, from a professional meeting turning inappropriately sexual, to various forms of groping, and even of one where a male lawmaker disgustingly masturbated in front of a female staff in a bar bathroom.
The stories may vary but the similarity is that all involve a man with power- the kind of power bestowed by voters, an influential lobbying client or those who give campaign funds. Often, instead of rightfully wielding their power to shape politics or public policy, men used such influence to proposition women or to touch them inappropriately.
Around 20 women were also interviewed by the Los Angeles Times and they shared how men with power reshaped their lives and careers. Some were forced to leave the state, find other jobs, changed their personalities to “start anew.”
Women’s daily lives in the Capitol is often described as a “fishbowl where sexually charged gossip flows freely and relationships are key to success.”
Sabrina Demayo Lockhart, a former legislative staff member in the Capitol said: “It’s a career based on networking- not just what you know, but who you know. Speaking up could make it more difficult, if not impossible, to advance your own career.”
There are also men of power in the Capitol who took advantage of their ability to physically overpower women. Other female staff who work for female bosses at time found themselves having to shield their women bosses from the sexual advances of other more powerful men.
The Weinstein scandal has emboldened the women, once victims, to change their perspective that instead of accepting the abuses as “just the way things are” to finding the courage to report the abuses, stand up for their rights and those of other women, and push for reforms in the Capitol that would better protect women from predators.