OPINION | Barry Richard: Punish State House Sex Predators
Beacon Hill is reeling from allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct dating back more than twenty years. An explosive report by Yvonne Abraham of The Boston Globe on Friday reported on a "climate of harassment and sexual misconduct" at the State House based on interviews with at least a dozen women who worked on or around Beacon Hill;
"Aides, lobbyists, activists and legislators told of situations where they were propositioned by men, including lawmakers, who could make or break their careers; where those men pressed up against them, touched their legs, massaged their shoulders, tried to kiss them, grabbed their behinds, chased them around offices, or demanded sex."
Abraham's reports that some of the alleged perpetrators;
"are still fixtures on Beacon Hill."
The State House News Service reports;
"The co-chairs of the Women's Caucus Sexual Assault Working Group are calling for immediate implementation of a five-step action plan that includes mandatory sexual harassment training for all state employees and an anonymous survey to gauge the level of harassment within the State House."
The News Service reports that Co-chairs Reps. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead and Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield released a statement over the weekend;
"As female legislators, we have heard the harassment stories of female staff and female interns who work in the State House. It is disturbing to learn that outside organizations must provide education to staff and interns on what legislators and aides to avoid. No one should feel unsafe walking through these halls."
Sexual harassment and sexual assault are clearly two very different matters. The Oxford Dictionary defines sexual harassment as "Harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks." Sexual assault is defined as "The action or an act of forcing an unconsenting person to engage in sexual activity; a rape; (Law) a crime involving forced sexual contact, variously defined as inclusive or exclusive of rape."
However, I believe that sexual harassment can often be left to the individual to determine what is and is not harassing behavior. Unfortunately some of what is being alleged to be sexual harassment is simply men and women learning to co-exist in the professional sandbox together.
There is no doubt about what constitutes sexual assault and based upon the complaints of some of these women they were sexually assaulted. Sexual assault is illegal and should be prosecuted to the max. Period.
All of the sensitivity classes and workshops in the world are not going to stop men from pursuing women. For the majority of humans it is nature's course. There is a line, a bold line, not a thin one that separates pursuing a potential date, harassing someone and sexually assaulting someone.
Some men do not know how to take no for an answer. They can become harassers and perhaps dismissal is the only way to get them to understand. Those who take harassment to the next level and assault another individual should be locked up for a long time.
Editor's Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.