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Op-Ed: Systems Are Flawed and Need Fixing

Photo courtesy of Jillian Gilchrest

West Hartford resident Jillian Gilchrest shares her thoughts on sexual harassment reporting in the Connecticut General Assembly.

By Jillian Gilchrest

Recently news broke about the mishandling of domestic abuse and sexual harassment in Elizabeth Esty’s Congressional office. At the story’s center is Anna Kain, a young women, speaking out to expose a “flawed system designed to protect powerful people, and isolate and ignore those who need protection most.” Ms. Kain is right. Our systems are flawed and need fixing.

One system that needs fixing is the one involving lawmakers at the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA).

In 2016, as the Senior Policy Analyst for the Connecticut General Assembly’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (now the Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors), I was required to take sexual harassment training. During the training, I asked what a staff member or outside lobbyist should do if a lawmaker sexually harasses them. Nothing, I was told, because lawmakers are not employees of the CGA.  I was shocked – especially considering the power dynamics between lawmakers, staff, and lobbyists.

In the CGA’s daily Bulletin a section on sexual harassment directs people with complaints against a lawmaker to talk to the Chief of Staff for the offending lawmaker’s caucus (House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, or Senate Republicans), or a designated staff member of the opposite sex.

The Chief of Staff holds a great deal of power, including over policy decisions and priorities. It may prove difficult for a staff member or lobbyist to report sexual harassment or abuse perpetrated by a lawmaker to their caucus’ Chief of Staff. It is also unclear what happens once a complaint is made. Does each caucus have their own sexual harassment policy? Who and how are complaints investigated? Is this information posted anywhere for staff and lobbyists to review? None of this is clear in the Bulletin.

In the current session, Connecticut lawmakers introduced multiple bills to address workplace sexual harassment. This is good news. But none of the bills address the situation at the CGA. And this needs to be changed.

Our lawmakers need to create a clear process for reporting and investigating complaints of sexual harassment involving themselves and their colleagues. The time is now to fix our flawed systems and help end the perpetuation of sexual harassment.

Jillian Gilchrest is a West Hartford resident and democratic candidate for State Representative in the 18th district of West Hartford.

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